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AFB  ®
Technology News for People Who Are Blind or Visually Impaired
From the American Foundation for the Blind
 May 2005 Issue  Volume 6  Number 3

In This Issue . . .

Editor's Page

Letters to the Editor

CSUN 2005

The 20th annual technology and persons with disabilities conference, hosted by the California State University at Northridge Center on Disabilities, once again featured the best and brightest in assistive technology--Deborah Kendrick and Jay Leventhal

Redoing Windows: A Guide for Customizing Windows for Users with Low Vision

Tired of headaches from straining to read text and searching for icons on the screen? We have some suggestions to make things easier on your eyes--Amy Salmon

The Next Generation: A Review of Personal Digital Assistants, Part 2

We review the PAC Mate and compare its performance with two previously evaluated personal digital assistants--Jim Denham, Jay Leventhal, and Heather McComas

Dial M for Merger

Will the joining of two major players in the assistive technology field be murder for customers or a boon to all?--Deborah Kendrick

Canada Stands Tall with Web-4-All

This innovative program for instantly customizing computers can start you surfing the Web from over a thousand locations across Canada. It may also offer an access solution in the United States and elsewhere around the world--Janet Ingber

Two More Approaches: A Review of the LG VX 4500 Cell Phone from Verizon Wireless and Microsoft's Voice Command Software

The accessible cells keep multiplying, and we keep reviewing them--Darren Burton

AccessWorld News


Editor in Chief Jay Leventhal
Contributing Editors Paul Schroeder, Founding Editor
Deborah Kendrick, Senior Features Editor
Crista Earl
Mark Uslan
Managing Editor Ellen Bilofsky
Associate Editor Rebecca Burrichter

AccessWorld® is published bi-monthly by AFB Press, American Foundation for the Blind, 11 Penn Plaza, Suite 300, New York, NY 10001. Products included in AccessWorld® are not necessarily endorsed by AccessWorld® or AFB staff.

All rights reserved. Copyright © 2005 American Foundation for the Blind.

AccessWorld is a trademark of the American Foundation for the Blind.

Editor's Page

AccessWorld is best known for its objective product evaluations. The evaluations are designed to help you decide which product will best fit your needs or the needs of consumers with whom you work, and, therefore, which product you should buy. Charts showing comparisons of product features and ratings are included.

Each product or group of products is tested using a specific set of criteria. Documentation and installation or ease of set-up are always tested. Screen readers and screen magnifiers, for example, are used to perform a set of predetermined tasks in a number of applications. We test the word processor, address book, calendar, web browser and other applications of personal digital assistants (PDAs). Mainstream products--cell phones for example--are evaluated using a set of features defined beforehand by surveying a group of people who are blind or visually impaired. Whenever possible, more than one person tests each product.

Therefore, our findings are the results of the tests performed, not one person's opinion of the product being evaluated. Our goal is to provide readers with objective, useful information. Our conclusions are often not as harsh as some readers would like them to be, or as positive as the manufacturers would like. Over the years, we can say that many of the bugs we have found have been fixed, and our suggestions for improvements have been implemented. You can be sure that we will continue to approach product evaluation in the same manner.

In this issue, Deborah Kendrick and I report on the 20th annual Technology and Persons with Disabilities conference, hosted by the Center on Disabilities of the California State University at Northridge (CSUN). As we have come to expect, the CSUN staff again put on the largest and best conference in the business. Read our coverage to find out about new and updated products and a sampling of the hundreds of intriguing presentations.

Amy Salmon presents a step-by-step description of how people with low vision can make simple changes in Windows XP to make it easier for them to read their computer screens. She walks you through changes to a variety of settings to customize the Windows screen from the look of the desktop to the size and font of menus. Whether you use a screen magnifier or just have trouble reading some documents or dialog boxes, there is something in this article for you.

Jim Denham and Heather McComas of AFB's Technology and Employment Center in Huntington, West Virginia (AFB TECH) and I review the PAC Mate from Freedom Scientific. The PAC Mate, like the BrailleNote PK from HumanWare, formerly Pulse Data, and the Braille Hansone (now known as the Braille Sense) from HIMS Company Ltd., is a personal digital assistant (PDA) with braille or speech output and a choice of a braille or QWERTY keyboard. This article evaluates how well the PAC Mate performs various functions and how easy it is to learn and use. The current generation of adapted PDAs include, in a small package, sophisticated word processors, appointment calendars, address books, e-mail capabilities, web browsers, media players, and multiple ways to connect with a computer and other devices. Charts are included comparing all three devices.

Deborah Kendrick reports on the merger of New Zealand-based Pulse Data International and Canadian-based VisuAide, announced in January 2005. The new company will be known as the HumanWare Group. The company's combined product line now spans CCTVs; the BrailleNote family and the Maestro PDAs; the Victor Reader Digital Talking Book players, and the Trekker and BrailleNote global positioning satellite (GPS) systems. We spoke with company executives about plans for the future. Time will tell whether assurances that this merger will foster product research and development--rather than the layoffs and consolidation with which we all are too familiar following mergers in other fields--will prevail.

Janet Ingber, author and music therapist, writes about Web-4-All, a program that makes computers in public Internet access sites of the Canadian Community Access Program (CAP) usable by people who are blind or visually impaired. Industry Canada, CAP's sponsoring agency, contracted with the University of Toronto's Assistive Technology Resource Center to design software for the project. Each user sets up a personal profile indicating which assistive technology should be used for Internet access, and this configuration is loaded when the user inserts a smart card into one of the over 1,000 computers that are now part of the network. No personal information is coded on the smart card. Read about this innovative project, which could have many practical applications in the U.S. and elsewhere.

Darren Burton of AFB's Technology and Employment Center in Huntington, West Virginia (AFB TECH), evaluates the LG VX 4500 cell phone from Verizon Wireless and Microsoft's Voice Command software, which can be installed on many of today's new Pocket PC phones and personal digital assistants. The LG VX 4500 is an off-the-shelf phone with some accessible functionality built-in. It features robust voice input control as well as speech output, and provides access to more features and functions than similar phones have previously. Voice Command Software brings a limited level of accessibility to touch-screen devices that have traditionally been unusable by people who are blind or have low vision. Find out what AccessWorld's expert thinks of these two approaches.

Jay Leventhal
Editor in Chief


After the article "Thin and Sleek: A Review of Two Flat-Panel Desktop CCTVs" was published in the March 2005 issue, AccessWorld was notified by Optelec that the name of one of the products evaluated had been changed from ClearView Flext to ClearView Flat Panel. The name has now been corrected online. We regret any confusion that may have been created by this alteration.

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Letters to the Editor

Good Cell Phone Option

Thank you so much for the article in the March Access World entitled "You Get to Choose." I had already purchased an LG VX 4500 cell phone from Verizon Wireless back in September of 2004. The customer service representative at Verizon was very helpful when I explained that I was visually impaired and that I would need a phone that supported voice access. He also sold me the Mobile Office Kit which consists of software called Quick Link Mobile Phone Book, a USB cable, and some other software. This allows someone to manage their phone book on their PC and transfer it to the phone. This makes the phone extremely useful for the blind. I was able to use JAWS and ZoomText to input my phone directory into the QuickLink Mobile Phone Book and then write the entries to the phone. The mobile office kit costs $50.00 and is well worth it.

I recently took my phone back to Verizon Wireless to get the upgrade mentioned in your March article. This adds many more voice commands, like Phone Status, which tells you your signal strength, battery level as well as other information. The Call Someone command allows you to find the entry in your phone book and tells you the labels such as home, mobile, or office which you can use to call the desired number. Before the upgrade I could only call the first number for the given name. Although this is an off-the-shelf phone, the Mobile Office Kit and the recent upgrade make this a good option for the blind cellular phone user.

Mike Martin

Other MP3 Options

I just finished reading your review of the iPod in this month's issue and would like to put forward some points you didn't mention, both about using the iPod itself and about other hard-drive based MP3 players that hold an equal or greater amount of data, are cheaper, and are far more accessible.

First, as to the iPod itself: Many blind people have found it far easier to use Anapod Explorer software <www.redchairsoftware.com/anapod/> to transfer files to the iPod. This program offers an interface much like Windows Explorer, and it allows people to use standard screen reader commands to transfer files, rather than needing to use the mouse cursor.

Further, Rockbox <www.rockbox.org>, firmware for the Archos line of players (which hold the same amount of data as the iPod and, unlike the iPod, are upgradeable to hold six times that amount of data), makes these players almost completely accessible. They will read the menus, spell all file names and speak folder names, and allow the reading of the battery gauges. When one plugs them into a USB port, they act like drives in Windows Explorer. Therefore, they require no other software to transfer files to and from the player. Unfortunately, the Archos players are now somewhat difficult to get new. Because of this problem, Rockbox is being developed for the Iriver line of players <www.iriveramerica.com>, and that development effort is nearing completion. These players, which are already very accessible, will then be able to speak their menus, speak or spell folder/file names, etc. The Iriver units, like those from Archos, show up as standard drives in Windows (or in other systems), and don't require software to be used in transferring files to the player. Further, both the Archos and Iriver units are far cheaper than an iPod of the same size.

Aman Singer

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Conference Report

CSUN 2005

Joining with thousands of like-minded persons interested in the same subject areas is a surefire way to recharge batteries for professionals in any milieu. The 20th annual Technology and Persons with Disabilities conference is an outstanding recent example of doing just that for all of us at AccessWorld. Called CSUN after its hosting organization (California State University at Northridge's Center on Disabilities), the conference has become an important venue for unveiling new products, presenting new developments, and generally sharing information regarding assistive technology that enables people with all types of disabilities to participate more fully and equally in employment, education, and social interaction. For those specifically interested in blindness and low vision, there were many exhibits and sessions to choose from. We can't bring the entire conference to you, but we've pulled together the highlights.

At a reception marking the event's 20th anniversary, the Center on Disability presented some highlights of the conference's history and recognized many of those responsible for nurturing it to the point of international acclaim. Dr. Harry Murphy, who launched the conference in 1985, and who retired as director of the Center on Disability in March 2000, spoke about the first conference and how much organizers learned from the experience. There were 700 attendees that first year, a number that has grown steadily, and attendance was over 4000 at the 2005 event. In addition to award presentations by the Center on Disability itself, AFB's Jim Denham presented CSUN with an AFB Access Award, acknowledging the conference as an example of accessibility for people with disabilities.

Mary Ann Cummins Prager receiving a Lucite plaque from Jim Denham.

Caption: Mary Ann Cummins Prager (left) receiving the AFB Access Award on behalf of CSUN from Jim Denham of AFB TECH.

And the conference does indeed practice what it preaches. All presenters are required to provide materials in accessible formats. Attendees receive general conference materials in their choice of braille or large-print format, and a CD of all materials is available. For people with hearing impairments, real-time captioning, assistive listening devices, and/or sign language interpreting is available and, of course, all venues are accessible to people with mobility impairments. Accessible work stations are set up to accommodate participants with a variety of disabilities as well.

While the organizers do a good job of tagging sessions in tracks pertaining to various disabilities--whether, for instance, the session will be of interest to those with speech difficulties, low vision, blindness, or mobility impairments or to any participant--some fine tuning is still needed. Many of the sessions relevant to blindness and low vision were scheduled at the same times, rather than being staggered to give participants more opportunities to attend all relevant sessions. For example, the two presentations pertaining to the relationship between litigation and access for people with visual impairments were each presented by an attorney and offered a different facet of the subject, yet, they were scheduled at the same time on the same day.

Keynote Presentation

This year's speaker, Dr. Albert Cook, is Dean of the Faculty of Rehabilitation Medicine at the University of Alberta, Canada, and has been involved in assistive technology as an innovator, educator, author, organizational leader, and advocate since the early 1980s. His address reviewed several historical highlights of assistive technology, illustrating how today's devices are both similar to and different from the groundbreakers of 25 years ago. While his emphasis was on augmentative and alternative communication devices for people with speech and cognitive disabilities, Dr. Cook's core philosophy is applicable to all persons with disabilities. The ability to create tools is what differentiates us as humans, Dr. Cook pointed out. However, dependence on those tools is greater for people with disabilities than for those without disabilities. Referring to what he called "hard technologies" (the tools themselves, such as computer hardware and software) and "soft technologies" (the strategies for using those tools to foster independence and equality), he stressed the importance of narrowing the gap between the two categories. If the soft technologies are not in place to enable people with disabilities to be trained in, obtain, and make best use of the "hard" technologies, the existence of such tools can have a negative impact. In other words, without the strategies that enable people with disabilities to keep pace with nondisabled technology users, the gap that translates as inequality will widen as more hard technology becomes available, rather than narrow.

Product and Company News

Here we highlight some of the most exciting products and announcements that were revealed at the conference. More new product announcements can be found in AccessWorld News elsewhere in this issue.

Telesensory Shuts Down

On March 14, 2005, Telesensory Corporation ceased operations and laid off all of its employees. According to an e-mail from Ken W. Stokes, President & CEO, the action was "due to a deteriorating relationship with [the company's] principal supplier, which resulted in the unavailability of products to ship. . . ."

Telesensory was founded by John Linvill and Jim Bliss in 1970 to develop, manufacture, and market products for blind people. The company's first product was the Optacon, a portable electronic print-reading device with columns of vibrating reeds that presented letter shapes as you tracked the print. Lately, Telesensory has mainly focused on closed circuit televisions (CCTVs) and other products for people with low vision.

Apple's VoiceOver

Apple demonstrated VoiceOver, the new screen reader that will be built into version 10.4 of the Macintosh operating system (OS) due to be released this summer. Apple touted the advantages of having a screen reader already installed when you buy the computer, rather than needing to install one as an add-on. The first time you run VoiceOver, by pressing the Command key with F-5, the Set-up Assistant is launched and helps you learn to use VoiceOver. Apple says that applications including e-mail, the text editor, and its Safari Browser are accessible, as are other utilities and the OS X installation disk.

Apple provides guidelines for third-party developers to make their applications accessible. A major question is how accessible third-party applications used in publishing, music production, and other areas will be. If Apple follows through, VoiceOver will quickly become the most widely available screen reader. For more information, visit: <www.apple.com/macosx/tiger/voiceover.html>.

Two New DAISY Players

Telex announced the Professor, a portable sound system that can play DAISY books, text files, and audio CDs. It also includes a cassette player for NLS-FORMAT, four-track, and regular two-track cassettes, and an AM-FM radio. The Professor will be available this summer. For more information, contact: Telex Communications; phone: 952-736-4233; e-mail: <info@telex.com>.

Plextor was showing the Plextalk PTN1, a digital talking book player. The PTN1 measures 8.66 inches by 6.76 inches by 2.2 inches and weighs 2.65 pounds. It plays MP3 files and commercial CDs as well as DAISY books. The price is $350. For more information, contact: Plextor: phone: 510-440-2000, e-mail: <sales@plextalk.com>; web site: <www.plextalk.com/index.html>.

Inside Some Sessions

AccessWorld sent out its roving reporters to attend as many sessions as possible to bring back the best of CSUN for our readers. The following are some summaries.

Digital Talking Books

Recurring themes throughout sessions of particular relevance to people who are blind or visually impaired were DAISY-formatted digital talking books, Web accessibility, accessible global positioning system (GPS) devices, and notetakers/personal digital assistants (PDAs). Bookshare and Springer Design, manufacturer of the Book Courier, teamed up for a session demonstrating the convenience of downloading books from Bookshare.org and loading them into the Book Courier, a handheld device that plays Daisy, MP3, Audible.com, and text files.

Elsewhere, Larry Skutchan from the American Printing House for the Blind (APH) demonstrated the power of the Book Port, the Book Courier's number one competitor. Terrie Terleau from APH also demonstrated two new electronic mobility devices. The K Sonar can be attached to the grip handle of a white came or simply held in the hand, and used to detect the presence and location of objects. Information is transmitted through tones of varying pitch and frequency. For a quieter and more tactile approach to locating (or avoiding) objects in one's physical environment, the Student Miniguide transmits its information via vibrations.

Project ASSIST

Among the sessions offered by the Iowa Department for the Blind's Project ASSIST (which we reported on in the March 2005 issue of AccessWorld) was one on the development of a tutorial for using NexTalk VM with popular screen readers Window-Eyes or JAWS for Windows. As part of the program's grant for developing materials for computer users who are deaf-blind, this particular program makes it possible to use a standard PC as a telecommunications device for the deaf (TDD), enabling a deaf person to hold a text conversation over the phone line with someone using another TDD. Despite the additional factors of screen reader and braille display, the team at Project ASSIST found that this program can be successfully used by deaf-blind individuals. A few minor aspects for which "work arounds" cannot be found can be handled by what the department's director, Curtis Chong, referred to as a "biological interface unit"--otherwise known as a reader!

The staff also described their 12-week online Train the Trainer workshop. Students become familiar with distance learning strategies, terminology, and accessibility of software in the first half of the course. In the next six weeks, each student creates an online training module teaching the use of a Windows application or an assistive technology product. The next course begins in June, and applications are due by May 1. For more information, visit: <www.blind.state.ia.us/assist>.

Web Accessibility and the Law

Lainey Feingold, a disability rights attorney who has steered entirely clear of the courtroom and focused instead on negotiating structured agreements with corporations, made three main points in her sessions on recent legal developments and advocacy strategies regarding Web accessibility. First, having your "day in court" may sound satisfying, but when it comes to complicated issues like Web accessibility, court is sometimes the last place you want to be. Regardless of whether you do eventually wind up in front of a judge, you will always need to document your concerns and all the constructive steps you have taken to seek resolution. Her second recommendation was to be specific and constructive in your requests. Get the accessibility experts and web site developers talking directly to each other. Finally, think locally. If there is a company policy regarding access to information, for example, then start with that, not the entire Americans with Disabilities Act. She mentioned that when the New York State attorney general recently reached an agreement with two travel web sites, a lot of other companies took notice. This approach might be useful in other states as well. The presentation concluded with an overview of the different laws that could potentially be used to increase the accessibility of web sites in the United States.

Cynthia Waddell, president of the International Center for Disability Resources, discussed a wide range of legal developments in 2004 related to accessibility: the settlement of Dr. Bonnie O'Day's complaint filed with the Federal Communications Commission regarding the inaccessibility of a cell phone sold by Verizon Wireless (see the AccessWorld News in the May 2003 issue); New York State Attorney General Eliot Spitzer's settlement with Ramada Inns and Priceline.com, in which the companies agreed to make their web sites accessible; the reauthorization of the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act, including the establishment of a national repository for textbook files in an accessible format; and the requirement that as of April 1, 2005, purchases by federal government workers of technology under $2,500 by credit card must now comply with Section 508 of the Rehabilitation Act. For more information, visit <www.icdri.org>.

Web Content Accessibility

The new guidelines for evaluating web content accessibility should be released sometime in the coming year. Wendy Chisholm and Judy Brewer of the World Wide Web Consortium (W3C) reassured the audience that if their web sites comply with the first version of the Web Content Accessibility Guidelines, then they will need only minor changes (if any) to comply with WCAG 2.0, as well.

The main impetus for releasing version 2.0 of the guidelines is to make them easier to use, test, and understand. The W3C's Web Accessibility Initiative also wanted to extend the guidelines beyond hypertext markup language (HTML), to cover a wider variety of markup languages and content formats. The organization is preparing materials to help in the transition, including detailed examples, code snippets, and browser support information for HTML (including XHTML), cascading style sheets (CSS), and scalable vector graphics (SVG).

Terry Thompson, of AccessIT--National Center on Accessible Technology, explored the many ways in which universal web design benefits all users, with and without disabilities. Mr. Thompson compared accessible web techniques to curb cuts at street corners, which were designed for wheelchair users, but come in handy also for people wheeling a suitcase or pushing a stroller. On the Web, the equivalents might be captions that were intended for use by deaf viewers but also benefit people who are in noisy environments or who are not native speakers of that language. Text alternatives to visual elements benefit users who are blind, but also people using small, handheld devices including PDAs or people with slow Internet connections, who might prefer to browse with the images turned off. Avoiding the use of color to convey essential information helps people who are colorblind and also people using monochrome displays or handheld devices with grayscale screens. Providing a clear, simple design, including a consistent and intuitive navigational system, benefits a variety of users with disabilities, but the result is a web site on which all users can easily find the information they need.

Accessible Video in a Diverging Web Environment

David Klein and K. "Fritz" Thompson, of the Law, Health Policy, and Disability Center at the University of Iowa evaluated several different formats and players for accessible online video as part of their project to provide accessible Web-based training. Their recommendations were to start with high-quality video and audio because you will need to compress these files for Web delivery. They suggested acquiring a separate audio track, if possible. They also suggested providing closed or open captions for viewers with hearing impairments and any user who is in a situation where they can't hear well, as well as a complete transcript and any supporting documents. Finally, be sure to proof and correct your captions and transcripts.

The presenters noted that QuickTime, Windows Media, and RealPlayer audio and video software all share the following capabilities: high-quality audio and video; free plug-in/player (may auto-install or prompt for updates); support streaming or progressive download; Cross-platform availability; ability to "protect" content from permanent download; and large installed base: that is, many people already have these players installed on their computers.

All the players are supported by existing captioning tools such as MAGpie, and all allow the developer to use "component-based" captioning, which makes corrections easier by storing the captions in a separate, smaller file. Those captioning technologies include extensible markup language (XML), synchronized multimedia integration language (SMIL), Microsoft's proprietary version of SMIL known as synchronized accessible media interchange (SAMI), QuickTime caption files, and Flash. In each case, the caption files include the text of the captions, time codes for synchronizing their display with the video, and text formatting such as the font and font size, line breaks, bold, colors, and so on.

The presenters also provided a useful comparison between the different methods of delivering media over the Web: downloads, streaming, or progressive downloads. The presentation and some supporting materials are available at: <http://disability.law.uiowa.edu/lhpdc/publications/documents/

Creating Accessible Adobe PDF Documents

Adobe's portable document format (PDF) is popular for a variety of uses because it maintains the fidelity of the original document, regardless of the computer or operating system on which it is viewed. However, PDF has historically posed serious access barriers for blind or visually impaired people using assistive technology such as screen readers or screen magnifiers, and creators of PDF documents rarely use the proper techniques required for making the documents accessible. Loretta Guarino-Reid and Greg Pisocky from Adobe discussed how Adobe has worked to make document creation more accessible and the tools built into the Adobe Acrobat software that designers can use to create accessible PDFs more easily and the Adobe Designer software for making PDF forms more accessible.

Some of the changes from Adobe include an improved accessibility checker built into Acrobat software, including validation and repair; optical character recognition (OCR) software that designers can use to improve the accessibility of PDF documents created from scanned files; defaults set so that assistive technologies have permission to access document content; and Touch Up Reading Order tool for sighted people to correct the reading order of a document for screen-reading tools. (This last tool is not yet accessible to screen reading software, however.)

Adobe's entire presentation is available online at <www.easi.cc/csun2005.htm>.

Letting Go of Wires

Optelec presented a session on universal access through wirelessly connected devices to demonstrate the EasyLink Bluetooth braille keyboard with an accessible iPAQ, the MobileSpeak screen reader, and the MyLink device. The EasyLink keyboard worked well but, in a later demo at their exhibit booth, the presenters had some difficulties connecting because of the number of competing Bluetooth devices in the room. The MobileSpeak screen reader was demonstrated with a Nokia cell phone (a Symbian operating system and GMS [global system mobile communications] service is required). The device can be synchronized with Microsoft Outlook and, with some add-ons, MobileSpeak works with e-mail, MP3 players, the DAISY reader, a color recognizer, games, and text messaging. (See " Two More Approaches: A Review of the LG VX 4500 Cell Phone from Verizon Wireless and Microsoft's Voice Command Software" in this issue for more information about some of these products.)

Optelec's recently introduced MyLink is described as a universal remote with PDA functionality and a braille display. It has some interesting features but is much more bulky than a PDA or cell phone.

Accessibility Approaches: Responses to Section 508

The Information Technology Technical Assistance and Training Center (ITTATC) presented the results of a study of technology industry companies' responses to Section 508. Their study included eight companies, most of them quite large, with varying levels of federal government contracts. ITTATC then created a list of recommendations for these companies to improve their business practices in incorporating accessibility into product design.

Battle of the File Formats

AccessIT presented a session comparing HTML, tagged Adobe PDF, and Microsoft Word formats to determine which best preserves the structural integrity of electronic documents, and whether assistive technology can access the structure. Included was a discussion of the importance of using proper formatting, such as headings and table markup, when creating documents. Their recommendation was reflected in the current New York State law (Chapter 219) governing accessible formats for electronic textbooks. The hierarchy of preferred formats in this case was DAISY 3, accessible HTML, accessible or structured PDF, and Microsoft Word or ASCII. DAISY was mentioned only briefly since the presentation was focused on common business applications.

Topics in Java Accessibility

Sun Microsystems discussed the current and future accessibility status of Java. Version 2.0 of the Java Access Bridge for Windows is being released in beta. Sun has also developed the Java Accessibility Helper (Version 0.7), a graphic tool to assist software programmers and developers in examining Java-based applications for accessibility. It identifies problems based on priority levels 1, 2, and 3, although these are not based on the WAI or 508 guidelines. In fact, the Java Accessibility Helper is not itself accessible. They also noted that Java applets are not generally accessible, so they recommend Java Web Start as a possible alternative. Although they did mention some advantages to Web Start (for instance, it runs from the desktop without the browser), they did not necessarily demonstrate how this would be more accessible.

Accessible PowerPoint on the Web

EASI (Equal Access to Software and Information) presented strategies for creating PowerPoint presentations via the Web that maintain accessible features. They suggested using the Office Accessibility Wizard (which costs approximately $40) to convert documents created in Word, Excel, and PowerPoint to HTML. This product adds Save As Accessible Web Page to the File menu in Office applications. When selected, it opens a help feature to walk the user through the accessibility options to incorporate into the HTML version of the file.

Accessibility in the Workplace

Industry Canada conducted a survey of their 7,000 employees regarding accessibility of information and communication technology within their workplaces and devised strategies for improvements. Working with two accessibility specialists, they identified problems such as inaccessible applications and documents. One of the biggest challenges has been working with third-party vendors to improve the accessibility of their products. A particularly interesting point was made that, except for the W3C's guidelines on Web accessibility, there are no standards or specifications for manufacturers or software developers to follow when they are told to make something "accessible." Industry Canada identified future areas of concern to include PDAs, e-training, and the creation of standards.

J-say Technology: Successful Integration

Next Generation Technologies, the developers of the J-Say product line of computer software, which allows the Dragon Naturally Speaking voice recognition software and the JAWS for Windows screen-reading program to work together, introduced both the Standard and Professional versions, and demonstrated the Professional version. Overall, the interoperability between the two programs was impressive. There were some problems with the demonstration as a result of feedback from the speaker system that was picked up by the microphone. The Professional version would seem to be necessary only for someone who has no real keyboarding ability, since it controls both text input and navigation commands. The Standard version focuses more on using speech to input text, leaving navigation within applications to the keyboard. Using J-Say Standard, the computer user can dictate text into WordPad, Dragon Pad, Microsoft Word, Microsoft Outlook, and Internet Explorer (for example, to fill in forms). A script allows users entering data into Outlook Contact fields to enter only Name, Phone, and E-mail, thus reducing the number of fields that need to be navigated. A similar script was written to simplify input in the Outlook Calendar. Although the current version works only with JAWS, the manufacturers are planning to introduce versions that interface with other screen readers such as Window-Eyes and Hal.

Recharging the Batteries

There were many other sessions and products of interest at the CSUN 2005 conference. And there were highlights of the less technical variety, too. The appearance of singer-songwriter Stevie Wonder (who, like many other people who are blind, stops by the conference exhibit hall at least once a year to see what's new) caused the expected stir of excitement.

Photo of Stevie Wonder talking to some young children in front of a HumanWare sign.

Caption: Stevie Wonder helps CSUN attendees recharge their batteries.

At the Friday evening party hosted by HumanWare, the company added a bit of lightheartedness to its celebration of merger with a kind of "team spirit" ditty suitable for singing. GW Micro surprised many at its reception with the announcement of the addition of the Braille Sense (formerly known as the Hansone, a Korean-made braille notetaker) to its product line. Several companies added excitement by drawings for cash and product prizes. With so much going on, no single individual could see everything--but one outcome shared by most conference attendees was the recharging of batteries and renewed enthusiasm for reading assistive technology's next chapters as they are written.

Kelly Bleach, Darren Burton, and Elizabeth Neal contributed to this article.

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Access Issues

Redoing Windows: A Guide for Customizing Windows for Users with Low Vision

Imagine sitting at your computer and being able to see everything on the screen easily. The color scheme is perfect, icons and menus are easy to read, dialog boxes no longer require you to sit with your nose up to the screen. For most computer users with low vision, this scenario seems unattainable. It is time to stop dreaming and make it a reality.

This article details a no-cost solution for customizing your Windows operating system to meet your needs. No extra software is required. If you are using a Windows operating system, you have everything you need.

Through easy-to-follow, step-by-step instruction, you will learn how to change almost every aspect of your screen, from the look of the desktop to the size and font of menus. Because of Windows XP's advanced features for screen customization, all instructions are based on this operating system. However, most of the same features also are available in the Windows 2000, Windows ME, and Windows 98 operating systems. Features exclusive to XP are noted. In an attempt to make this information as user-friendly as possible, instructions are presented in the order that they appear in the appropriate windows or dialog boxes. Also, to satisfy those who love the mouse as well as those who prefer to keep their hands on the keyboard, both mouse and keyboard commands are provided for most functions. (See For More Information at the end of the article for additional keyboard command resources.)

A list of key terms appears in a sidebar at the end of this article, explaining some of the commands as well as the different types of boxes and their components that you will encounter when making the adjustments described in this article. You can refer to this list anytime you have questions.

Before Beginning

In Windows XP, any changes to the computer screen are immediate. This can pose problems if you share the computer with other users such as co-workers or family members. New to Windows XP is the ability to save customized appearance schemes in the Display dialog box on the Themes page. This feature enables you to switch among preset or customized schemes. However, in order to switch among saved schemes, you must be able to access the dialog box and page visually without the benefit of your preferred screen appearance. Because of the difficulty in accessing saved schemes for most users with low vision, this feature is recommended only for more advanced users.

It is recommended instead that you establish a separate User Profile if you are sharing your computer with other users. Any changes to the computer screen's appearance that you establish when you log in under your User Profile will only be effective when using that profile. For beginning users, it is a good idea to establish a separate User Profile in which to save the appearance changes you make. If you want to revert to the original or default appearance settings, all you need to do is log in as a different user and delete the User Profile you created for the appearance changes. To set up a new User Profile, you must have what is termed Administrator access. This means that you have authorization to make changes to the computer's set-up, system, and appearance. This is usually not a problem for most people working on their home personal computers. It is fairly easy to add Administrator access to an existing or new User Profile (see instructions below). However, many employers and organizations limit Administrator access to a select few to protect the computers on the network. If this is the situation, ask the appropriate person to add a new User Profile with administrator access for you or to work with you to make the changes you need.

If you have administrator access, it is fairly easy to set up a new User Profile using the following steps:

  1. Open the Start Menu (click on the Start Button or press the Windows logo key).
  2. Select Control Panel (in some versions it is listed under Settings; see the next section on the Control Panel for detailed instructions).
  3. In the Control Panel window, select the User Accounts item (double click on User Accounts or arrow to User Accounts and press Enter).
  4. Select the Create a New Account link in the User Accounts window (click on the link or Tab to the list of links, arrow to the link, and press Enter).
  5. Type a name for the new account in the edit box (you are automatically placed in the edit box and can begin typing a name for your User Profile). We suggest using your own name here.
  6. Select the Next button (click on the button or Tab to the button and press Enter).
  7. Select either Computer Administrator or Limited from the list of radio buttons (click on the radio button or Up or Down arrow to the desired radio button). Most users prefer to have full computer administrator access.
  8. Select the Create Account button (click on the button or press Tab to the button and press Enter).
  9. Close the User Accounts window (click the X in the top right corner of the window or press Alt+F4).
  10. Close the Control Panel window (click the X in the top right corner of the window or press Alt+F4).
  11. Restart the computer and log in using your new profile.

Note: Previous Windows operating systems (2000, ME, 98) offer the option to save appearance settings in the Display dialog box on the Appearance Page.

Following are some additional tips to help reduce frustration as you work through customizing the computer screen:

  • If possible, have someone without a visual impairment available to assist you with some of the initial modifications.
  • View each change before moving on.
  • The Cancel button or Escape key is your friend. If you are unsure of a change you have made, simply select the Cancel button in the dialog box or press the Escape key. This cancels any changes and returns you to the Control Panel.
  • Take notes. Keep a notebook or recording of any changes you make. First note what the setting was prior to any changes. Then record any changes you make. This enables you to go back easily and modify changes or return your system to its default appearance.
  • If you don't succeed the first time, try, try again. You may think a change to a particular feature of your screen's appearance will work but find it doesn't. Do not get frustrated. Just go back and try another option. Remember, what works for one person may not work for another.

If you use assistive technology, there are a few things you need to be aware of before you begin. Most of the more current versions of screen magnification programs (with or without speech support) such as ZoomText or MAGic, offer many features for customizing the appearance of the screen and mouse. Changes made in Windows may not apply when the screen magnification program is running and, in some cases, may even conflict with your screen magnification program. Check with your screen magnification software manufacturer before making any changes. If you are using screen reading software such as JAWS for Windows or Window-Eyes, changes to the appearance of your screen can often interfere with the screen reading software. Again, consult the software manufacturer prior to making any changes.

The Control Panel

In Windows, the Control Panel does what its name implies: it controls your computer. All of the features that control the computer's appearance are available through the Control Panel. Before beginning any of the instructions in this guide, you first need to open the Control Panel.

The most common way to open the Control Panel is through the Start Menu. To open Control Panel using the Windows XP default Start Menu:

  1. Open the Start Menu (click on the Start button or press the Windows logo key).
  2. Select Control Panel from the Start Menu (click on Control Panel or arrow up or down to Control Panel and press Enter).
  3. Maximize the Control Panel window (click the box in the upper right corner of the window or press Alt+Spacebar, arrow up or down arrow to Maximize, and press Enter).

If you have the Windows Classic Start menu, follow these steps:

  1. Open the Start Menu (click on the Start button or press the Windows logo key).
  2. Select Settings from the Start Menu (click on Settings or arrow up or down to Settings and press Enter). A submenu appears to the right of the Start Menu.
  3. Select Control Panel from the submenu (click on Control Panel or arrow up or down to Control Panel and press Enter).
  4. Maximize the Control Panel window (click the box in the upper right corner of the Window or press Alt+Spacebar, arrow up or down to Maximize, and press Enter).

The Control Panel is a window. If you have not made any previous changes to your settings, the Window may look like a web site. This can be visually confusing to people with low vision. To simplify the look of the Control Panel, follow these steps:

  1. Open the Tools menu on the menu bar (click on Tools or press Alt+T).
  2. Select Folder Options from the Tools menu (click on Folder Options or arrow up or down to Folder Options and press Enter).
  3. Folders Options is a multipage dialog box. Select the General page tab (click on General or hold down Control and press Tab until the General page is selected).
  4. In the General page, select the radio button Use Windows Classic folders (click on the radio button or tab to the field and arrow up or down to the radio button).
  5. Select the View page tab (click on View or hold down the Control key and press Tab until the View page is selected).
  6. Select the Apply to All Folders button (click the button or Tab to the button and press Enter).
  7. Select the OK button (click on the OK button or Tab to the button and press Enter).
  8. Do not worry about other options in the Folder Options dialog box.

You will now be returned to the Control Panel window. The window will now look similar to most other Microsoft windows, with menu and toolbars across the top and a list box below. Depending on any previous settings you have changed, the list box may look like a list of names or a series of icons. To change the appearance of the items in the list box:

  1. Open the View menu on the menu bar (click on View or press Alt+V).
  2. Select the desired appearance from the menu: Icons or List (click on the desired option or arrow up or down to the selection and press Enter). In previous versions of Windows, the choices are Large Icons, Small Icons, or List.
  3. The items in the list box are changed to your selection.

Now you are ready to start customizing the appearance of your computer screen.

Accessibility Options

Accessibility Options enable users to apply certain accessibility features Microsoft has built into Windows. This option is available on most Windows operating systems. However, features within Accessibility Options vary among operating system versions. There are numerous choices in the multipage Accessibility Options dialog box. For the purposes of this guide, we will address only those features that affect the appearance of the cursor.

To open the Accessibility Options dialogue box:

  1. Open the Control Panel.
  2. Select Accessibility Options in the list box (double click on Accessibility Options or arrow to Accessibility Options and press Enter).
  3. Select the Display tab (click on Display or hold down the Control key and press Tab until the Display page is selected).
  4. Ignore the high-contrast setting options. (We will address these settings in the Display Properties section of this guide.)
  5. Select the Cursor Options Blink Rate. Increasing or decreasing the cursor blink rate may make it easier for you to see the cursor when working in word processing programs. This can be changed using a track bar. Moving the bar to the right of the bar increases the cursor blink rate; moving the bar to the left of the bar slows down the cursor blink rate (click on the bar and drag the bar to the right or left or tab to the sliding bar and press the Up or Down Arrow to move the bar).
  6. Select the Cursor Options Width. This option enables you to change the width of the cursor that appears on the screen, making it easier to locate and follow the cursor when entering information. This is another track bar control. Moving the bar to the right increases the cursor width; moving the bar to the left decreases the cursor width (click on the bar and drag the bar to the right or left or tab to the track bar and press the Up or Down Arrow to move the bar).
  7. Select the Apply button (click on the button or Tab to the button and press Enter).
  8. Select the OK button (click on the button or Tab to the button and press Enter).
  9. You are returned to the list box in the Control Panel window. If you want to see the changes you made to the cursor, open a word-processing document in an application such as WordPad or Microsoft Word.

Display Properties

The Display options are where you will make the majority of changes to your computer screen's appearance. Display Properties is a multipage dialog box. Because of the extent of the changes that can be made in this dialog box, each page is reviewed separately here. The page tabs in the Display dialog box are (from left to right): Themes; Desktop; Screen Saver; Appearance; and Settings.

The Display dialog box is significantly different in Windows XP from previous Windows operating systems. For Windows XP users with low vision, this is a plus. You now have the ability to customize just about every aspect of the computer screen. Although not all features provided in this guide are available in previous Windows operating systems, do not give up hope. Features available in previous Windows operating systems are indicated here with an asterisk (*).

The strongest feature in the Display dialog box is the mini-view window. This enables you to see how your choice will affect the look of the different screen features before actually applying any changes.

First, open the Display dialog box:

  1. Open the Control Panel.
  2. Select Display from the list box (double click on Display or arrow up or down to Display and press Enter).


A theme is a background plus a set of sounds, icons, and other elements to help you personalize your computer. You can create and save a personalized theme on this page, but for this guide we will only cover selecting preset themes.

  1. Select the Theme page (click on Themes or hold down the Control key and press Tab until the Theme page is selected).
  2. In the Themes combo box, select a preset theme such as Windows XP or Windows Classic (click to open the combo box and then click on the desired theme or tab to the combo box, arrow up or down to open the list, and arrow up or down to the desired item).
  3. View the changes in the mini-view window.
  4. Select the Apply button (click on the button or tab to the button and press Enter).


The Desktop Page enables you to select a preset appearance or to customize the appearance of your Desktop. The Desktop is the main screen of the computer that displays icons, the Start Button, Task Bar, and System Folder. (Previous versions of Windows labeled this feature "Background" in the Display dialog box.) For most users with low vision, the appearance of the Desktop can be very frustrating.

To select a preset Desktop background:

  1. Select the Desktop Page tab in the Display dialog box (click on Desktop or hold down the Control key and press Tab until the Desktop Page is selected).
  2. Select a preset background from the List of Backgrounds list box. There are 117 preset backgrounds available in Windows XP (click on a background in the list or tab to the list box and arrow up or down to a background). To scroll through the list, click on the the Up or Down Arrow at the right side of the box (keyboard users can simply arrow up or down through the list).
  3. View the background in the mini-view window.
  4. Select the Apply button to change to the new Desktop background (click on the Apply button or tab to the button and press Enter).

The other feature in the Desktop page that directly affects the appearance of the Desktop is the Position combo box. Position refers to how the Desktop background you selected will appear on the screen. There are three position options: Center will position the background in the center of the Desktop; Tile will position the background in multiple squares across the Desktop; Stretch will position the background across the entire Desktop. To change the Position option:

  1. Open the Position combo box (click on the arrow keys or tab to the combo box and press the Up or Down Arrow).
  2. Select the desired position from the list (click on the selection or arrow up or down to the selection and press Tab to move to the next field).
  3. View the changes to your background in the mini-view window.
  4. Select the Apply button (click on the Apply button or tab to the button and press Enter).

This guide does not address the advanced features available to customize the desktop. For an advanced user, these features can be accessed through the Customize Desktop button.

Screen Saver*

The Screen Saver Page allows you to choose from a list of preset screen savers. A screen saver is a feature that turns on when the computer has been idle for a set period of time. Although using a screen saver is not necessary, it is one way of personalizing your computer. Have fun with this option and pick a screen saver that fits your environment and personality.

To select a preset screen saver:

  1. Select the Screen Saver Page tab (click on Screen Saver or hold down the Control key and press Tab until the Screen Saver page is selected).
  2. Open the Screen Saver combo box (click on the arrow keys at the right of the combo box or tab to the combo box and press the Up or Down Arrow).
  3. Select a preset screen saver from the list (click on the selection or arrow up or down to the item).
  4. Select the Screen Saver Preview button to view the screen saver in full screen format (click the Screen Saver Preview button or tab to the button and press Enter).
  5. Uncheck the check box for On Resume, Display Welcome Screen (click in the check box or Tab to the check box and press Space Bar). Unchecking this feature enables you to close the screen saver and automatically return to your computer screen by simply pressing any key on the keyboard.
  6. Select the Apply button (click on the Apply button or Tab to the button and press Enter).

There are additional options in the Screen Saver Page for customizing the Screen Saver Settings and for Screen Saver Wait (the time elapsed before the screen saver is displayed). More advanced users can feel free to explore these options. However, these features are not critical to the general appearance of the Screen Saver and will not be addressed in this guide.

Another option in the Screen Saver Page is the ability to customize the Power Options for your computer. These are energy-saving features that enable you to set the computer's monitor and other parts of the system to power down (turn off) after a specified length of time. (For ease of access, it is recommended to leave power settings for hard disks, system standby, and system hibernate at Never). Power options for the monitor determine when the screen saver is activated.

To adjust power settings for the monitor:

  1. Select the Power button on the Screen Saver Page (click on the button or tab to the button and press Enter).
  2. The Power Options dialog box is opened.
  3. Select the Power Schemes page tab (click on Power Schemes or hold down the Control key and press Tab until the Power Schemes page is selected).
  4. Open the Turn Off Monitor combo box (click on the arrow keys at the right of the combo box or tab to the combo box and arrow up or down to open the list).
  5. Select a time interval from the list (click or arrow up or down to the desired selection). You can set the monitor to power down and turn on the screen saver in intervals of minutes or hours.
  6. Select the Apply button (click on the Apply button or tab to the button and press Enter).
  7. Select the OK button (click the OK button or tab to the button and press Enter).
  8. You should be returned to the Display dialog box on the Screen Saver Page.
  9. On the Screen Saver page, select the Apply button (click on the Apply button or tab to the button and press Enter).


The Appearance Page is where the choices really get exciting. This is where you can make changes that affect the look of everything from the menu bar to dialog boxes. Because of all the features available on this page, each item is addressed separately.

First, open the Appearance Page: In the Display dialog box, select the Appearance page tab (click on Appearance or hold down the Control key and press Tab until the Appearance page is selected).

Most low vision users can customize their computer's appearance by simply changing the Windows and Buttons scheme, Color Schemes, and Font Size on the Appearance Page. These changes will affect almost every aspect of your screen's appearance, from the size of icons and menus to the color of dialog boxes.

The first option on the Appearance page is to select a look for Windows and Buttons. There are two choices in the combo box: Windows Classic or Windows XP. If you want to customize the color, font, and font size of certain elements, we recommend selecting the Windows Classic option, since some of these features are not available in the Windows XP selection. Also, the Windows Classic option provides an extensive selection of color schemes (see below), including many high-contrast color schemes that work well for users with low vision.

  1. Open the Windows and Buttons combo box (click on the arrows to the right of the combo box or tab to the combo box and arrow up or down to open the list).
  2. Select an option from the list (click on the option or arrow up or down to the item and press Tab to select and move to the next field).
  3. Select the Apply button (click the Apply button or tab to the button and press Enter).

The Color Scheme option enables you to select the color scheme for your computer. If you selected the Windows XP Windows and Buttons option, there are only three color schemes available. The Default Blue is recommended for most users because it is the friendliest version for people with low vision. However, if you selected the Windows Classic Windows and Buttons option, there are 22 different color schemes available. The Windows Classic color schemes also include several high-contrast settings such as High Contrast Black (white text on a black background similar to the negative polarity option on closed-circuit television systems) and High Contrast White (black text on a white background). To select a color scheme:

  1. Select an option from the Color Schemes combo box (click on the arrows at the right of the combo box and then click on a color scheme or tab to the combo box, arrow up or down to a color scheme and press Tab to select).
  2. View the new color scheme in the mini-view window. Try several different color schemes until you find one that works best with your vision.
  3. Select the Apply button (click the Apply button or tab to the button and press Enter).

The Font Size option enables you to set the size of the text for any Windows feature such as icons, menu bars, window title bars, and toolbars, to name just a few. There are three font size options: normal, large, and extra large. To change the font size:

  1. Select a font size from the Font Size combo box (click on the arrows at the right of the combo box and then click on a font size or Tab to the combo box, arrow up or down to the desired font size, and press Tab to select).
  2. View the application of the new font size in the mini-view window. Try each font size option to determine which works best for you.
  3. Select the Apply button (click the Apply button or tab to the button and press Enter).

For those who want, or require, further customization of the screen, we will include a brief overview of the Effects and Advanced features.

Effects and Advanced Features

The Effects button opens a dialog box that enables you to select certain features that affect the visual appearance of your screen such as transition effects for menus and toolbars, font edge smoothing, large icons, and menu shadows (the Control Panel Help explains these features). To access the Effects dialog box:

  1. Select the Effects button (click on the button or press Tab to the button and press Enter).
  2. Check or uncheck items in the Effects dialog box as desired (click in the check box or tab to the check box and press spacebar).
  3. Select the OK button to apply the changes or Cancel to exit the dialog box (click on the button or tab to the button and press Enter).
  4. You are returned to the Display dialog box, Appearance page.
  5. Select the Apply button (click on the button or tab to the button and press Enter). Although the changes you made in Effects should have been applied, they may not be apparent to you until you start working in different programs.

The Advanced button opens a dialog box that enables you to customize certain elements of Windows such as message boxes, menus, and window title bars. Whereas previously you have changed the entire appearance of all items to the same look, the Advanced dialog box allows you to customize individual items by color, font, and font size. To access the Advanced features:

  1. Select the Advanced button (click on the button or tab to the button and press Enter).
  2. Select an item in the list box and make desired changes to the color, font, or font size.
  3. Once you have made all the changes, select the OK button to apply the changes or Cancel to cancel the changes (click on the button or press Tab to the button and press Enter).
  4. You are returned to the Display dialog box on the Appearance page.
  5. Select the Apply button to apply the advanced changes (click the button or press Tab to the button and press Enter). The changes you made should be immediately visible in the mini-view window.


The final page in the Display dialog box is the Settings page. Options on this page tell Windows the type of computer monitor being used, set screen resolution and color quality, and provide advanced troubleshooting features. It is recommended that you leave most of the options on this page at the default settings. However, there are a few changes you can make to improve the appearance of your computer screen.

First open the Settings page: In the Display dialog box, click on Settings or hold down the Control key and press Tab until the Settings page is selected). On this page you can set the screen resolution (in older versions of Windows it may be called "screen area." In noncomputer language, screen resolution refers to the degree to which the screen is pixilated. A higher screen resolution means more pixels and a cleaner, tighter appearance. For most users with low vision, a higher screen resolution of 1024 x 768 is preferred. To change the screen resolution:

  1. Move the Screen Resolution track bar to 1024 x 768 (click and drag the pointer or tab to the track bar and press the Up or Down Arrow).
  2. Select the Apply button (click on the Apply button or press Tab to the button and press Enter).
  3. Your screen will disappear for a second and then you will be prompted with a message box asking if you want to use the new settings or revert to the previous settings. Select the Yes button to apply the new screen resolution settings (click the Yes button or press Y).
  4. The screen will disappear for another second and then return with the new screen resolution settings operational.

The Color Quality feature allows you to adjust the color displayed on your computer screen. A higher color setting will render colors more accurately. For most users with low vision, a 32-bit setting is recommended because it provides the closest representation of the intended color and the sharpest color. To change the Color Quality:

  1. Open the Color Quality combo box and select Highest (32 bit) (click on the arrows at the right of the combo box and then click on the selection or tab to the combo box, arrow up or down to the selection, and press Tab to select the option).
  2. Select the Apply button (click on the Apply button or tab to the button and press Enter).

You have now finished making all the changes in the Display dialog box. To accept the changes and close the Display dialog box, select the OK button (click on the OK button or press Tab to the button and press Enter). You are returned to the Control Panel window. Close the Control Panel window (click the X in the upper right corner of the window or press Alt+F4).

A New View

Congratulations! If you completed all the instructions in this guide, you should be looking at a computer screen that is easier to see. Now that you know how to change the appearance of your computer screen, you can continue to customize it to meet your specific visual needs. If you find that a particular feature is not working, or you just get tired of a color, just change it! Upcoming issues of AccessWorld will offer more tips on customizing the mouse pointer and programs such as Microsoft Word, Microsoft Excel, Internet Explorer, and Microsoft Outlook.

For More Information

For additional information on computer adaptations for users with low vision, check out the following web sites:

American Foundation for the Blind: <www.afb.org/Section.asp?SectionID=4&DocumentID=1452 >

Texas School for the Blind and Visually Impaired: <http://www.tsbvi.edu/technology/index.htm#content>

For a complete listing of keyboard commands for all Windows operating systems and Microsoft programs, visit <www.microsoft.com/enable/products/keyboard.aspx>.

Key Terms


Arrow: Move the cursor by pressing the Up or Down Arrow keys.

Click: Position the mouse pointer and click once with the left mouse button.

Double Click: Position the mouse pointer and click the left mouse button twice in rapid succession.

Enter: Press the Enter key.

Tab: Press the Tab key.

Types of Boxes

Dialog Box: An enclosed area that appears on the screen to present information or request input. You can navigate through a dialog box to select items, open lists, or enter information by clicking the left mouse button once on the desired item Pressing Tab also will move you through a dialog box and enable you to select or enter information.

List Box: A box containing a list of items; the items can be selected by clicking the left mouse button once or arrowing up or down to the item in the list and pressing Enter.

Multipage Dialog Box: A dialog box consisting of multiple pages. To switch between pages in the dialog box, select the desired page tab listed horizontally across the top of the dialog box. Selecting the page tab will switch the dialog box contents to that page. Page tabs are selected by clicking once with the left mouse button or by holding down the Control key and pressing Tab until the desired page is located.

Dialog Box Elements

Button: A small outlined area in a dialog box that can be clicked on to perform a function. To select a button, position the mouse pointer over it and click once with the left mouse button. You also can Tab to the button and press the Enter key once the button is selected.

Check Box: A small box placed at the beginning of an item or option that you can click to turn the option on or off. To check or uncheck the box, click once with the left mouse button or tab to the check box and press the spacebar.

Combo Box: A box with an Up and Down Arrow at the right edge. You can move through and select items in the list by clicking on the Up or Down Arrow once with the left mouse button and then clicking once on the desired item in the list. Pressing the Up or Down Arrow key also will open and move you through the list. Pressing Tab will select the item from the list and move you to the next field.

Edit Box: A field in a dialog box that requires you to enter specific information, such as a file name, by typing it in the box area. Clicking the left mouse button once or pressing Tab will position a cursor in the box.

Radio Button: A small button in front of each item in a list of options. To select a radio button, click once with the left mouse button on the radio button or tab to the list and arrow up or down to the desired option; then press Tab to move to the next field. Only one of a set of radio buttons can be selected at a time.

Track Bar: A horizontal bar that allows you to increase or decrease a certain feature by sliding the bar to the right or left or up and down. To move the box, click and hold down the left mouse button while dragging the bar to the desired direction. Or, tab to the sliding bar and press the Up or Down Arrow key to move the bar left or right or up or down.

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Product Evaluation

The Next Generation: A Review of Personal Digital Assistants, Part 2

In Part 1 of this article in the January 2005 AccessWorld, we reviewed two accessible personal digital assistants (PDAs): the BrailleNote PK from Pulse Data and the Braille Hansone (now known as the Braille Sense and distributed by GW Micro) from HIMS Company. Here we review the PAC Mate, Freedom Scientific's PDA, originally released in 2002. The PAC Mate, currently in its second generation, having undergone significant hardware and software revisions, provides access to the Pocket PC suite of applications via a version of its JAWS screen reader. Pocket PC is a suite of applications produced by Microsoft designed for handheld devices. The Pocket PC applications are available on many mainstream PDAs currently on the market. Although the product offers users some unique functionality and access to a wide variety of off-the-shelf software designed for the Pocket PC environment, some of its most basic operations still pose challenges for users who are blind or visually impaired.

Physical Description and Available Options

PAC Mate, like most of the adapted PDAs currently on the market, is available with either a braille or QWERTY (typewriter style) keyboard. Users have the option of purchasing either a 20- or 40-cell refreshable braille display or using the product without refreshable braille. During our evaluation, we reviewed a PAC Mate with braille input (the PAC Mate BX) and a 40-cell refreshable braille display. Unlike its competitors, PAC Mate's braille display can be detached. This unique functionality allows you to decide when and where you want refreshable braille. Detaching the display significantly decreases the product's weight. When a 40-cell braille display is connected, the PAC Mate BX (the version with the braille input keys) weighs approximately 4 pounds. When the display is detached, the product weighs a little less than 2 pounds. When not connected to the PAC Mate, the braille display can be connected to a desktop for refreshable braille access from either JAWS or Window-Eyes. When using JAWS, the display is automatically detected by the screen reader. We found connecting and disconnecting the braille display to the PAC Mate to be a fairly simple procedure that was well documented.

Figure Photos of the PAC Mate with a braille keyboard and without (top) and with (bottom) a braille display.

Caption: The PAC Mate BX alone (top) and with 40-cell detachable braille display (bottom).

The detachable display simply slides into the front of the PAC Mate. Above the braille cells is a double row of touch cursor keys. The row closest to the display provides the traditional function of moving the cursor to the desired cell. The top row of touch cursors allows you to scroll the display and control some braille functions. The outermost 15 touch cursor buttons on each side are used for scrolling the display. The 10 controls in the middle of the display are used for functions such as turning braille translation on or off and moving the braille display to the top of the current window. Several raised dots have been placed above this row of touch cursors to help you locate the controls that perform functions. Even with these dots, quickly finding the exact key needed to perform a specific function may be difficult for some users. A whiz wheel is located at either end of the braille display. These two controls can be used to scroll the display and set to perform other functions.

The top surface of the PAC Mate itself has eight braille input keys, eight function keys, a spacebar, and a rubber cross known as a cursor cross. The braille input keys are placed ergonomically near the rear of the top surface. As is the case with other accessible PDA products, dot 7 serves as a Backspace key and dot 8 serves as an Enter key. Directly behind each braille input key is a small round function key. These eight function keys are used for commonly performed tasks, such as opening the start menu or minimizing an application. Some of these keys are also used to launch commonly used applications, such as the calculator. The spacebar is located near the front of this area and is easily reachable while entering text. Directly behind the spacebar is the cursor cross. This cross is used much like arrow keys are used on a standard keyboard. This control is very helpful when navigating menus or moving quickly through documents. The left rear corner of this surface contains a built-in microphone, and the right rear corner contains the product's speaker. The built-in microphone is very handy when using applications such as the voice recorder or other third-party software.

The back panel of the PAC Mate contains a variety of useful connectivity options. Two Compact Flash card slots allow you to insert a Compact Flash peripheral, such as a wireless Ethernet card, and a Compact Flash memory card at the same time. An infrared port can be used to beam files or other items to other handheld devices or laptops with infrared capability. The mini-USB (universal serial bus) port can be used to connect the PAC Mate to a computer or other USB-enabled devices. During our evaluation, we attempted to plug a full-sized USB keyboard into the product. This full-sized keyboard was not acknowledged by the operating system and could not be used to control the PAC Mate. We were able to connect the product successfully to a PC and a USB-enabled printer using this port. The rear panel also contains headphone and microphone jacks, a port for the AC adapter, and the unit's power switch.

One of the most disappointing aspects of the PAC Mate is the case that ships with the product. It is simply a bag that can be used to hold the product. In order to switch on the product or use any of its functions, the PAC Mate must be completely removed from this bag. Having this laptop-like approach to handheld computing is not conducive to individuals who want to use their PAC Mate on the go. Another company, Executive Products, does sell a PAC Mate case that allows you to use the PAC Mate while in its case. However, this case is not discussed in the user documentation, and must be purchased separately.

Photo of the PAC Mate with a QWERTY-style keyboard and a 40-cell braille display.

Caption: The PAC Mate also comes with a QWERTY-style keyboard.

Documentation and Online Help

PAC Mate comes with two compact disks (CDs). Unfortunately, neither one is labeled in braille. The user documentation CD contains the complete user manual in hypertext markup language (HTML). According to information on the CD, this manual is also available as a text-only file and as a portable document format (PDF) file from the Freedom Scientific web site. Aside from the manual, the CD contains a wealth of other information, including a getting started tutorial in MP3 audio and several guides for basic and advanced users. All this information is accessed using a series of web pages. The CD does a nice job of providing information for users of both the BX and QX (QWERTY-style) models of the product. The other CD provided is the Pocket PC Companion disk. This CD, provided by Microsoft, contains the latest version of ActiveSync (a utility used to transfer data between the PAC Mate and a desktop computer), a copy of Microsoft Outlook, and several other utilities. The web pages used to navigate the contents of this CD are not fully accessible, and may present problems for inexperienced visually impaired web surfers. In addition to these two CDs, the PAC Mate BX ships with several braille documents. These include several Quick Start cards that describe various aspects of the PAC Mate and a guide for new users of the product.

While you are using various features of the product, several help options are available. Context-sensitive help provides information on the current application or dialog. Although this help is useful in knowing the purpose of a specific dialog or available commands within an application, it does not provide help on the currently highlighted control. For this type of help, users will want to activate the product's Control Help. This command looks at the currently highlighted control, such as radio button or edit box, and attempts to provide keystrokes that can be used to alter the control. Unfortunately, these two help systems are not linked to each other. Therefore, in order to get general and control-specific help, it is necessary to issue both commands. PAC Mate uses a large number of layered commands, issued by pressing two distinct keystrokes, one after another. Layered Command Help allows you to determine which commands are available after the first keystroke in the sequence has been pressed. PAC Mate also offers a searchable help system that provides detailed information on all applications. The system is Web based and is fairly easy to use for individuals who are comfortable with PAC Mate's Web browser commands.

General Navigation

The PAC Mate's main screen is the Today screen. In Windows CE, the Today screen is similar to the desktop in other versions of Windows. This screen alerts you if you have new e-mail, upcoming appointments, or pending tasks. The screen also displays the name of the user (very handy when two or more PAC Mate users get together), the current date, and the battery status. While working with the product, we found that the battery status indicator was occasionally read incorrectly when the product was switched on. When this occurred, the speech would say one thing and the display would show something else. Moving around the Today screen with the cursor cross would correct this problem.

PAC Mate offers a number of ways for users to launch applications. Some applications, such as the Inbox and Task Manager, can be launched directly from the Today screen, simply by pressing Enter on the associated indicator. As noted above, other applications can be quickly opened using four of the function keys located immediately above each braille input key. Finally, as in other versions of Windows, all applications are listed and can be opened using the Start menu. Once you have completed work within an application, pressing the F1 function key, located above dot 1 on the braille input keys will cause PAC Mate to announce that the application has been closed. In reality however, pressing this key does not actually close the application: it simply minimizes it. These minimized applications are still listed in a menu that PAC Mate calls Recent Applications. To exit an application completely, you must perform several obscure commands, which differ depending on what application is to be exited and are not well documented. Falsely stating that the application has been closed when in fact it has simply been minimized may confuse some users of the product. However, having quick access (the recent applications list is available using another one of the function keys) is convenient when you are working in several applications at once.

Read This First

Prior to using any of PAC Mate's applications, users would be wise to read the help information on the particular application. Several applications that are part of the Pocket PC suite, such as the games, are totally inaccessible. When these applications are run, PAC Mate provides no indication that this application cannot be used by a user who is blind or visually impaired. This information is, however, listed in the application's Help menu.

A Tale of Two Word Processors

PAC Mate ships with two separate word-processing applications. Pocket Word is the word-processing component of the Pocket PC suite of applications, and is also available on many other Pocket-PC-based PDAs. Although this application allows you to perform basic word-processing tasks, it lacks more sophisticated functions, such as the ability to print a document. Support for contracted braille input within Pocket Word is also a bit cumbersome. Although it is possible to enter contracted braille in this application, several commands must be issued before and after the text is entered. These commands are not listed in the context-sensitive help for Pocket Word.

In order to provide a more powerful word processor that contains improved support for contracted braille, Freedom Scientific has written FS Edit. Although it goes against the philosophy of using off-the-shelf software that PAC Mate strives to achieve, this is the word-processing program most users with low vision will want to utilize. FS Edit allows users to create, edit, format, and save documents easily. The program does a good job of handling contracted braille, allowing you to enter contracted input and warning you when back translation is necessary. FS Edit even has the ability to translate an uncontracted document and send it to a braille embosser. However, since PAC Mate does not contain a parallel port, and there are currently few braille embossers on the market with USB ports, a network connection or USB converter is necessary in most cases to emboss directly from the PAC Mate. Editing and formatting documents is accomplished using several layered commands. Spell checking a document is simple and thoroughly explained in the documentation.

Planning Your Life

Many people who maintain busy schedules need some type of calendar that allows them to schedule, reschedule, and review daily appointments quickly. PAC Mate's calendar does a nice job of filling this need. Appointments can be scheduled or rescheduled with a few simple keystrokes. When the device is in standard view, using the left and right arrow keys displays the next or previous day. In this view, all appointments for the currently highlighted day can be reviewed with the Up and Down Arrow keys. Switching to Calendar view allows you to move around quickly by month, week, or day. In this view, PAC Mate simply indicates if a particular day has appointments scheduled. Pressing Enter places the calendar back in standard mode and allows all appointments for that day to be reviewed. Pressing Enter on a specific appointment reveals all the details for the appointment. PAC Mate's calendar can be synchronized with Microsoft Outlook. Unlike Outlook, PAC Mate's calendar is extremely accessible and intuitive. For these reasons, many users use only the PAC Mate calendar in a corporate setting. The most serious drawback to this application is its lack of support for contracted braille. When you are entering information into an appointment, everything must be typed out in uncontracted braille. This drawback greatly decreases the convenience of this otherwise easy-to-use application.

Taking Notes

PAC Mate includes a small notetaking application to be used for jotting down short bits of information. Once you have jumped through the contracted braille hoops, you can enter notes in contracted braille. As an alternative, you can use the voice recorder to record short voice notes. With the use of either method, this application is an excellent way of saving brief bits of information such as names and telephone numbers.


Not too long ago, in order to send or receive electronic mail (e-mail), you had to be sitting in front of a computer that was connected to the Internet. With the popularity of wireless networking, desktop synchronization, and PDAs that can handle e-mail, this is definitely no longer the case. PAC Mate's e-mail application allows you to send and receive e-mail virtually anywhere. If you have access to a wireless network, simply insert a wireless network Compact Flash card into your PAC Mate and you can be connected to the world. If you don't have access to any type of Internet connection, PAC Mate allows you to compose and read e-mail while offline. The next time you connect the product to the Internet, your messages will be sent and any new messages will be downloaded. As an alternative, if you have a desktop computer running Microsoft Outlook, you can use Microsoft ActiveSync to synchronize PAC Mate's Inbox with the Inbox on your desktop. This is a very convenient way of reading and responding to e-mail when you are away from your desk. All commonly used e-mail features, such as forwarding, replying, and sending and receiving messages with attachments, are available. PAC Mate's e-mail application does utilize a fair number of layered commands. As explained earlier, layered commands require you to press several keystrokes to perform a function. In order to send a message, for example, you must press the sh chord (dots 1, 4, and 6 with the spacebar) and then press the letter S. Remembering all these layered commands may be a bit tricky for new users, but PAC Mate's help system does provide assistance.

As with the desktop version of Microsoft Outlook, PAC Mate's e-mail application uses the Contact Manager as its address book. Entering information into the Contact Manager is fairly straightforward and is well explained in the documentation. Once your contact's information has been entered (either manually or through synchronization with Microsoft Outlook), simply selecting the name from a list will enter the correct e-mail address in the To: field of an outgoing message. When composing a message, it is possible to enter contracted braille. For this to be possible, however, the keystrokes to activate the automatic translator must be pressed before you enter any text. When you have completed your message, a special Translate and Send command is available.

Browsing the Web

Since PAC Mate uses Pocket Internet Explorer (IE--the browser portion of the Pocket PC suite) and a modified version of JAWS for Windows screen reader, browsing the Web using the PAC Mate has a very familiar feel. Individuals who use JAWS to browse the Web can use some of the same commands when navigating the Web with the PAC Mate. Pressing the letter H, for example, will jump you to the next heading on the page. Combining this keystroke with the backspace key will move to the prior heading. Some commands, however, are not the same. Opening a new page, for instance, is accomplished by pressing the letter G on the PAC Mate. When we asked Freedom Scientific about this, we were told that G stands for go to the address bar. Since many desktop users press either Control O or F6 to open a new page, it would make sense to have the same command on the PAC Mate.

The combination of JAWS and Pocket IE provides users with a variety of useful features. Most IE features, such as a history list, a list of favorites, and the ability to save pages for offline viewing, are available. When PAC Mate is loading a new Web page, a series of progress clicks are played. This is an excellent feature, especially for users who access the Web with a slow Internet connection. The only problem we encountered when browsing the web occurred on sites that opened pages in additional windows. When these new windows were opened, PAC Mate would occasionally lock up or read garbled information.

Third-Party Applications

With the popularity of mainstream mobile computing, a large number of applications are being written for the Windows CE operating system. One of PAC Mate's biggest selling points is its ability to run these applications. Some applications will work with the PAC Mate immediately. Scripts (computer code that fine-tunes the way JAWS interacts with a particular program) have been written for other applications. To assist in locating applications that work well with the PAC Mate, several users of the product have created a web site accessible at <www.pacmategear.com>. This site lists, among other things, third-party applications that work well on the PAC Mate. These applications include an audio recorder; several instant message clients (the programs that let users exchange messages in real time with friends or family who are currently online); and an application that allows you to load and search reference materials, including an entire encyclopedia.

One of the third-party applications most users will want to explore is a system backup utility called Sprite Backup. During the short time that we took to evaluate the product, we experienced two system crashes that could not be fixed with a warm reboot. (A warm reboot restarts the PAC Mate but does not erase any data.) When this occurred, it was necessary to perform a cold reboot, which erased all data files we currently had saved on the product and reset all settings to their factory defaults. Freedom Scientific acknowledges that this type of reset is occasionally necessary, and therefore advises PAC Mate users to back up their data on a regular basis. Sprite Backup can be used for just this purpose. This application, available on the Pocket PC companion CD, can quickly back up all of your PAC Mate data files to a Compact Flash card.

When it comes to accessing information, some terrific applications work well with PAC Mate. Audible.com <www.Audible.com> is a web site that produces audio files of books and magazines for the general public. To play these files, members must have software that handles Audible's proprietary file format. Since many users want to listen to Audible files on their Windows-CE-based PDAs, Audible has created a software player for this operating system. PAC Mate users can download and use this application to listen to books and magazines.

Windows Media Player allows PAC Mate to play streaming Internet radio and other audio files. A software application that allows PAC Mate users to download and open files from Bookshare <www.Bookshare.org> is also available.

The Bottom Line

The ability to detach a refreshable braille display and access a large number of third-party mobileware applications makes PAC Mate a unique product in the accessible PDA arena. However, PAC Mate does have some problems. The most glaring are its lack of consistent support for contracted braille and its occasional instability. However, as demonstrated in "A Packed Day with My PAC Mate" in the January 2005 issue of AccessWorld, many users are very happy with the product and use it on a daily basis. If you are in the market for an accessible PDA, the PAC Mate may be the solution you are looking for.

The BrailleNote PK performed best of the three products tested in our evaluation. It is easy to learn and use. Its main drawback is that it is currently a closed system--it cannot run third-party Windows CE applications, which the PAC Mate is able to do. However, we experienced software problems during the PAC Mate evaluation, and were frustrated with the lack of support for contracted braille. The Braille Hansone (since renamed Braille Sense) is now distributed in the U.S. by GW Micro, and its manual has been revised. At the time of testing, it did not perform as well as the BrailleNote PK or the PAC Mate.

Freedom Scientific's Comments

"Thank you for your review of the PAC Mate. It is not an easy task to cover all the things a person can do with a PAC Mate. Kolby Garrison covered quite a few in the January article "A Packed Day with My PAC Mate," and users continually post experiences on <www.pacmategear.com> (check out the new Jawbreaker game scripts).

We will release our fourth major update of the PAC Mate since December 2003 by the time this article is published. Among the new features is the ability to control JAWS on your desktop with your PAC Mate, using your QX or BX keyboard and your PAC Mate's speech and braille display. We will also have released our DAISY player for the PAC Mate, FSReader, our GPS solution StreetTalk™, and FSCommander, which lets you control your TV, VCR, DVD, stereo, or any appliance with an infrared remote control with your PAC Mate from 30 feet away. Keep checking <www.pacmategear.com> and our new PAC Mate Headquarters at <www.freedomscientific.com> for new applications and accessories that work with the PAC Mate and to be sure you are on the latest release and have downloaded any additional utilities you would like to use, like a second language synthesizer. The community of PAC Mate users is growing, exciting and eager to help new users."

Product Features

Feature PAC Mate
Memory 64 MB
One-handed mode Yes
Battery type Lithium polymer
Battery gauge Yes
Internal modem No
Dimensions 6.8 inches by 12.5 inches by 1.9 inches (without braille display); 6.8 inches by 12.5 inches by 1.9 inches (with 40-cell braille display attached)
Weight 1.85 pounds (without braille display); 4 pounds (with 40-cell display attached)
Ports standard Yes
Can function as a speech synthesizer or a braille display for a computer Yes
Plays MP3 files Yes
Operating system CE.net 4.2.

Product Features

Feature: PAC Mate

Memory: 64 MB.

One-handed mode: Yes.

Battery type: Lithium polymer.

Battery gauge: Yes.

Internal modem: No.

Dimensions: 6.8 inches by 12.5 inches by 1.9 inches (without braille display); 6.8 inches by 12.5 inches by 1.9 inches (with 40-cell braille display attached).

Weight: 1.85 pounds (without braille display); 4 pounds (with 40-cell display attached).

Ports standard: Yes.

Can function as a speech synthesizer or a braille display for a computer: Yes.

Plays MP3 files: Yes.

Operating system: CE.net 4.2.

Product Ratings
Product Ratings

Ratings Chart

Feature: BrailleNote PK; Braille Hansone; PAC Mate

Documentation: BrailleNote PK: 4.0; Braille Hansone: 2.5; PAC Mate: 4.0.

Word processing: BrailleNote PK: 4.5; Braille Hansone: 3.5; PAC Mate: 4.0.

Web browser: BrailleNote PK: 4.0; Braille Hansone: 3.0; PAC Mate: 4.5.

Calendar: BrailleNote PK: 4.5; Braille Hansone: 3.0; PAC Mate: 3.5.

Address list: BrailleNote PK: 4.0; Braille Hansone: 3.0; PAC Mate: 3.5.

Speech quality: BrailleNote PK: 4.0 ; Braille Hansone: 4.0; PAC Mate: 4.5.

Braille quality: BrailleNote PK: 4.5; Braille Hansone: 4.0; PAC Mate: 4.5.

Note: The ratings for the Hansone apply to the device reviewed in the January issue. This device, since renamed Braille Sense and distributed in the United States by GW Micro, has since been updated.

Product Information

Product: Pac Mate.

Manufacturer: Freedom Scientific, Blindness and Low Vision Group, 11800 31st Court North, St. Petersburg, FL 33716; phone: 800-444-4443; e-mail: <Sales@freedomscientific.com>; web site: <www.FreedomScientific.com>.

Price: PAC Mate BX400 and QX400: $2,395; PAC Mate BX420 and QX420: $3,795; PAC Mate BX440 and QX440: $5,595.

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Access Issues

Dial M for Merger

Name a company that has global positioning devices for people who are blind or visually impaired. Then name one that has machines that play DAISY and other digital talking books. Think of a braille notetaker/personal organizer that revolutionized the way braille users can manage files, access e-mail, and read books. And then think of the company that was the first to make available a popular handheld personal digital assistant (PDA) made accessible for use without sight.

One of the biggest pieces of news in the field of assistive technology for people who are blind or visually impaired to be released thus far in 2005 has been the merger of two companies, both known for products that reflect innovation and a respect for independence. The New Zealand-based Pulse Data International and Canadian-based VisuAide announced January 20 that they are forming one larger entity, to be known as the HumanWare Group. While the prospect of corporate merger sometimes conveys a sense of caution and foreboding, this is one commercial union that may well offer consumers worldwide reasons to rejoice.

Two Innovators

Pulse Data International (known in the United States previously as HumanWare and later Pulse Data HumanWare) has been a recognized groundbreaker in the areas of notetakers and video magnifiers. The company shook up the nascent notetaker market by introducing the BrailleNote and VoiceNote in 2000, the first PDAs based on the Windows CE operating system. These products enabled users who are blind or visually impaired to import and export Microsoft Word documents, read and write e-mail, and access the range of personal data organization (such as a calendar, contacts database, and calculator) that sighted peers have come to expect. More recently, Pulse Data introduced an even smaller, wireless version of the unit called the BrailleNote PK. This device performs all the functions of its predecessor, but with an 18-cell braille display that can literally fit into a pocket. For users with low vision, Pulse Data has been long respected for its range of video magnification devices, most recently its introduction of the myReader, a compact autoreading system for people with low vision.

While enjoying a more quiet presence internationally, VisuAide has made a splash in the assistive technology industry with its line of digital talking book players. The Victor Reader Classic, Victor Reader Vibe, and Victor Reader Soft are hardware and software products that provide access to DAISY-formatted books, and thus revolutionize the ways in which audio content can be accessed and manipulated. While VisuAide attracted serious notice with these players, its global positioning system (GPS) orientation solution (a stand-alone device called Trekker) and recent release of the Maestro--the first handheld personal data device made accessible to users who are visually impaired--positioned the company as one of the leading innovators in this field worldwide.

Merger Highlights

With the merger of these two companies together, most significant areas of product innovation in the field of blindness and low vision have been addressed: PDAs (braille and audio output), digital talking book players, GPS devices, video magnifiers, and handheld organizers (again offering either braille or audio output). Pulse Data, headquartered in Christchurch, New Zealand, has a worldwide reputation, with high visibility in the United States where it is based in Concord, California. VisuAide (now called HumanWare Canada) strengthens that presence while also benefiting from more international attention for its products, especially in French-speaking countries.

Most notable perhaps is the new research and development team. "We now have a total research and development team of 50 people," commented Dr. Russell Smith, CEO of the former Pulse Data and of the newly formed HumanWare. "[The team] includes engineers, software developers, and mechanical designers. We believe this would be the largest R&D team in our industry by a significant margin." Russell Smith will head the new HumanWare Group. Gilles Pepin, who has been president of VisuAide, is now President and CEO of HumanWare's Canadian subsidiary and is joining HumanWare's board of directors. Pepin and other key management personnel from both groups have become significant shareholders of the merged entity.

What Will Emerge?

Where the enlarged research and development effort is headed is, of course, the big question that no one is yet willing to disclose. Since the two former companies were primary competitors in the area of GPS devices for people who are blind or visually impaired, that is among the first topics to ponder. In fact, at the National Federation of the Blind convention held in Atlanta in July 2004, the two collaborated on a competitive "treasure hunt" (see "Geocaching: A 'Treasured' Experience with GPS" in the November 2004 issue of AccessWorld). Half the two-person teams followed riddles and clues using the VisuAide Trekker, and the other half used BrailleNotes loaded with the GPS software from Sendero Group LLC, which is BrailleNote- and VoiceNote-compatible. How will the company resolve the issue of these two products being under one umbrella? No problem, according to Ivan Lagace, vice president of sales and marketing for HumanWare Canada. "If you are already a BrailleNote user and you want GPS, the best solution for you would be Sendero's software," Lagace said. "But if you want a stand-alone GPS solution, you would rather buy the Trekker."

Indeed, it is this kind of example that played a key role in prompting the merger. As Russell Smith put it, "We have both invested heavily in R&D in order to be able to lead the field in the introduction of new technologies. Over time, we would inevitably have developed competitive products, which would not have been good for us or the consumers."

Certainly, Pulse Data has far exceeded VisuAide in understanding and responding to the needs of braille users, while the former VisuAide has excelled in the production of digital talking book players. So, might the BrailleNote soon sport a DAISY player? Might the Trekker have improved, less clunky braille input and/or interfaced with the BrailleNote family of products? Will Maestro and PK morph into something newer and even smaller?

While corporate management respond to such musings with the message that "anything is possible," the only product news being disclosed at this writing is the new Victor Reader Classic+, which adds recording capability to the earlier machine; the release of a Keysoft 6.1 upgrade, which, among other things, transforms the BrailleNote and VoiceNote into wireless devices; and the addition of a DAISY player to the BrailleNote family of products.

Organizational Chart

Whether you were familiar with VisuAide staff or Pulse Data staff or both, all 200 employees will be where you left them. No one is moving and no facilities are relocating. In California, Jim Halliday will continue to be president emeritus, and Greg Brown the chief financial officer; Dominic Gagliano has recently been named national blindness products manager for HumanWare in the United States, and Roberto Gonzalez, a familiar presence, has recently been rehired to act as blindness products specialist. There will be no layoffs, according to Dr. Smith, and, although there are no immediate plans for hiring, both companies have an excellent track record for employing people with visual and other disabilities.

No one can predict the future, but the new company called HumanWare warrants attention. Two companies known for innovation and quality products blending their strengths, weaknesses, and research and development resources look very promising. None of the key management staff could think of a single negative outcome of the merger. Russell Smith summed it up: "Putting together the two companies has created a substantially larger entity with greater international coverage and name recognition," he said. We believe these factors will enable us to serve our customers around the world better and manufacture our products in a more cost-effective way." Add that to the fact that inquiries about products on the drawing board netted many enigmatic smiles, and you have a company worth watching.

For more information on the merger or products, in the United States contact HumanWare, 175 Mason Circle, Concord, CA 94520; phone: 800-722-3393 or 925-680-7100; e-mail: <usinfo@humanware.com>; web site: <www.pulsedata.com> or <www.visuaide.com>.

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Access Issues

Canada Stands Tall with Web-4-All

Imagine going to a public access computer and finding assistive technology already available. Insert a card, and your preferences are instantly installed. This is a reality for Canadians, thanks to the Web-4-All program. This innovative service makes computers in libraries and other public places accessible to people with disabilities. Individuals do not need to purchase a computer or any assistive technology. They just need to create a user profile, which is then stored on a "smart card" for use on any machine with the Web-4-All software. Furthermore, Web-4-All could lead to innovative solutions for accessing ticketing machines, office building directories, and other public kiosks that are currently inaccessible.

How It Started

"We conceived the notion of Web-4-All in 1999 to address the service delivery mandate of our Community Access Program, which is responsible for establishing, in partnership, public Internet access sites, similar to the community technology centers in the United States," explained Lawrence Euteneier, Manager of the Web Accessibility Office for Industry Canada, who happens to be totally blind. Industry Canada is analogous to the U.S. Commerce Department--it develops regulations covering telecommunications, the automotive industry and much more. Its Community Access Program (CAP) sites are located in community centers, libraries, disability resource centers, and other public locations. "We wanted to make sure these CAP sites had the technology in place to address the access needs of Canadians with disabilities and/or literacy challenges," Euteneier continued. "We also wanted to address the technical requirements of manually configuring public work stations by introducing an automatic configuration program and a means for people to carry with them and personally deploy their own user preferences."

Industry Canada contracted with the University of Toronto's Assistive Technology Resource Center to design software for the project. One of the primary challenges was to find a set of assistive technologies that would cover the widest range of eventualities or requirements. "We negotiated site licenses for a representative set of assistive technologies that would be used primarily to access a browser," said Professor Jutta Treviranus, director of the university's Access Technology Resource Center. "Then we created the tools so that someone can create a profile for him- or herself."

The user profile includes the assistive technology the person wants to use, as well as how he or she wants the technology to work. You can decide how the browser and desktop are set up. For example, do you want text read aloud or text enlarged? "Then we created something called a configurator," explained Treviranus, "which basically follows those instructions. [It] launches the assistive technology, the browser, and configures everything according to your preferences." Creating the configurator posed a significant challenge because "in some cases we didn't have access to the codes. In order to communicate these preferences to the workstation, the mechanism we have is an 'open card' standard"--software that allows the smart card reader to read the application information on the card and communicate those preferences to the workstation. Corporate donors made significant contributions: Hitachi donated card readers, while Bell Canada and Royal Bank of Canada donated cards.

Essentially, you create your own set of preferences, which are stored on their smart card, which is about the size of a credit card. When you insert the card into any Web-4-All machine, your assistive technology configuration is loaded from the network, and you are ready to browse the Web.

Photo of a Web-4-All smart card. The card reads "Web-4-All: Web Accessibility through site, sound, and touch" in English and French.

Caption: A Web-4-All smart card is all that is needed to load your own preferences for browsing the Web.

Getting Started

Proof of disability is not required to use Web-4-All. The first step is to go to a CAP site. "Our CAP sites have both volunteers and trained youth employed to provide new computer users with computer training," explained Euteneier. "If this process identifies the user as having a disability or literacy issue, then the youth or volunteer would introduce the new computer user to the Web-4-All User Preference Wizard [UPW]. The UPW allows the youth or volunteer to work with the new user to determine what settings on the computer might better meet his or her user access requirements. These can be experimented with and refined over time. The user is then given a blank smart card to store his or her preferences on, and no other record of the user's individual preferences are kept or stored on the computer. If you lose your smart card, you simply reprogram a new card."

Once the smart card is programmed, it is good on all other Web-4-All computers. This method provides total anonymity. No personal information is contained on the card. There is therefore no way to track how many people with visual impairments use the system. Euteneier adds, "I can say that many find the technology useful in that it has allowed them to find employment in their home communities, making relocation to larger urban centers unnecessary." For the development of the Web-4-All technology and its dissemination, Eutenier received a 2003 Head of Public Service Award in the category of Client Service from the Canadian federal government.

Photo of Lawrence Euteneier being congratulated by an unidentified gentleman.

Caption: Lawrence Euteneier (right), Manager of the Web Accessibility Office for Industry Canada, receives the Head of Public Service Award.

What Does Web-4-All Install?

Each Web-4-All (W4A) computer has IBM's self-voicing browser Home Page Reader, the Center for Applied Special Technology's E-Reader, the Opera Web browser, and the University of Toronto's Visual Dynamic Keyboard. Each computer also comes with a specially modified Kensington trackball that allows for use with either hand as well as the connection of third-party control switches for people using their own control devices.

Euteneier states that another upgrade to the Web-4-All system will be available in the near future. "We hope to have the [Windows] XP version of W4A in the field by the spring of 2005. The new XP W4A system will also provide configuration support to programs such as JAWS, Window-Eyes, MAGic, ZoomText, and others."

At present, not all CAP sites have the Web-4-All technology. There are about 4,000 CAP sites in Canada. The 1,000 Web-4-All computers are part of a pilot program to assess the assistive technology. The computers were provided by the individual CAP sites. The selected sites received the Web-4-All system plus a CD that loads all the necessary drivers and applications.

CAP site technologists are either paid or volunteer, depending on the size of the site or partnerships the CAP site has entered into with other funding organizations. The computers used for Web-4-All are also available for people without a disability or literacy challenges. It is the assistive technologies added to the standard computer that make Web-4-All work.

Spreading Out

Private companies are using the Web-4-All technology to make their internal technology more accessible to their employees. Many companies have also been interested in the Web-4-All technology so that their web sites can become more accessible and comply with W3C standards. The Canadian government, as well as nongovernmental entities such as disability insurance companies, have asked that their questionnaires be made accessible to Web-4-All users. Links to the various questionnaires are then put on the Web-4-All web site.

Representatives from the U.S. National Association of Community Technology Centers have been in contact with Euteneier regarding bringing such a program to the United States. Steve Jacobs, President of Ideal Group in Hilliard, Ohio, said, "We have been partnering with Lawrence Euteneier in support of working with industry to show them the mainstream business benefits of designing accessible products. Then we learned of Web-4-All. In the United States we're interested in rolling out Web-4-All into public libraries and college libraries across the country. We have been applying for some grant monies to do that." Jacobs is enthusiastic about Web-4-All being able to run on a Windows XP platform. This will make Web-4-All more compatible with PCs used in libraries and colleges throughout the United States.

Jacobs adds, "I don't agree with 'separate but equal.' I agree with 'the same thing works for everybody and you shouldn't have to pay extra to get that capability.'" He points out that while a version of a product can be made accessible, that is not the same as making an accessible product. (Further information about Ideal Group can be found at <www.ideal-group.org>.)

Onward and Upward

The Web-4-All software is being refined and updated. "It is now moving into the preference, the common language, for stating what you want, which is totally devoid of personal information and stated very functionally," Professor Treviranus explained. We are moving toward a system in which technology will become less about disability and more about user preferences, so that visually impaired users will be able to choose rate of speech, font size, or how the screen is read in the same way that a sighted person chooses to have their desktop arranged in a particular manner. "This is becoming an international standard within the International Standards Organization. The implication is that something that started out in this project, with a multiuser workstation, is now going to become an interoperability specification"--that is, the specification of your preferences, which can then be used those preferences on any computer "in all sorts of other places," Professor Treviranus stated. Eventually, preferences could be transferred easily not only among CAP sites, but to computer systems in places such as colleges and libraries. "What started out as one specific implementation is going to have large repercussions elsewhere worldwide," as other countries see that it is possible to make access technology portable.

According to Professor Treviranus, there are organizations working toward making standard technology accessible to people with disabilities throughout the world. The Web-4-All initiative has become a model for how to make technology preferences portable by having these preferences on the smart card. Countries involved include the United States, Canada, England, Australia, and many others. These organizations include IMS Global Learning Consortium <http://support.imsglobal.org/accessibility/>, the Web Accessibility Initiative of the World Wide Web Consortium <hwww.w3.org/WAI/>, and the InterNational Committee for Information Technology Standards <www.incits.org/>.

Euteneier has high hopes for the future of Web-4-All and the technology it employs. He said, "W4A puts control over technology into the hands of the user. No longer is it necessary for all users to conform to a technology's default installation configuration, and no longer are we restricted to the use of our own personal technology. By putting this transformative power in the hands of people, technology can now serve everyone's diverse sight, sound, and touch preferences. It's my hope that this approach will be implemented on all technology some day, from bank machines to public terminals in libraries; carrying one's user preferences around on a bank or library card is possible."

For More Information

Additional information on the Web-4-All initiative and this new technology is available at the Web Accessibility Office, Innovation & Inclusion, Information Highway Applications Branch, Industry Canada, 2nd Floor, Section A, South Tower, Jean Edmonds Towers, 365 Laurier Avenue West, Ottawa, ON K1A 0C8; Phone: 800-575-9200; TTY: 800-465-7735; e-mail: <w4a@ic.gc.ca>; or at the University of Toronto's Adaptive Technology Resource Centre, J. P. Robarts Library, First Floor, 130 St. George Street, Toronto, Ontario, Canada M5S 1A5; phone: 416-978-4360; e-mail: <general.atrc@utoronto.ca>; web site: <http://web4all.atrc.utoronto.ca>.

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Product Evaluation

Two More Approaches: A Review of the LG VX 4500 Cell Phone from Verizon Wireless and Microsoft's Voice Command Software

This article continues our series of product evaluations from AFB TECH (American Foundation for the Blind Technology and Employment Center in Huntington, West Virginia) examining the accessibility of cell phones. As promised in our article in the March 2005 issue of AccessWorld, which summarized the current choices available to cell phone users who are blind or have low vision, this article explores two more approaches to accessibility. We evaluate the LG VX 4500 cell phone offered by Verizon Wireless and Microsoft's Voice Command software, which can be installed on many of today's new Pocket PC telephones/personal digital assistants (PDAs).

Verizon Wireless LG VX 4500

Priced at $39 with a two-year service agreement from Verizon Wireless, the LG VX 4500 manufactured by LG Electronics is an off-the-shelf telephone with some accessible functionality built in. It is similar to the Audiovox/Toshiba phone we evaluated in the May 2004 issue of AccessWorld. However, this phone features robust voice input control as well as speech output, and it provides a greater degree of access to more features and functions than does the Toshiba/Audiovox phone. Initially released in early 2004, The VX 4500 was upgraded in late November 2004 with features that enhance its accessibility.


The LG VX 4500 is a small, clamshell-style phone weighing 3.7 ounces and measuring 1.9 by 0.9 by 3.5 inches when folded up. On the inside, it has a 1.1-by-1.5-inch high-resolution display screen with 6,500 colors that can be viewed when the phone is flipped open. There is a smaller 0.9-by-0.5-inch monochrome display on the outside that can be viewed when the phone is flipped closed. The LG VX 4500 features a keypad with the 12 dialing keys arranged in the standard three-by-four grid. Above those keys are six more keys in two rows of three each. On the outside of the top row are two "soft" keys, whose function depends on the icon adjacent to them on the display screen. Between those keys is a circular, four-way navigation key surrounding an OK button. Below that row are the Send, Cancel, and End keys. On the left side panel there are two control keys. On the top is an up/down rocker-style button used to control the volume. Below that is the Voice button, used to activate the voice input functionality.

The LG 4500 is considered a midrange phone by today's standards, without some advanced features such as a digital video camera or multimedia messaging. It does, however, feature a Web browser, speaker phone, text messaging, and a Contacts application. Of interest to people who are blind or visually impaired are its voice input and speech output capabilities, which can be used to access much of the phone's screen information and menu system.

The LG Voice Command Function

It is interesting that LG calls their voice input function Voice Command, which is the same name that Microsoft has chosen for its software and that we will discuss in the next section of this article. LG's Voice Command allows you to use your voice to control many aspects of the phone. It is speaker-independent, meaning that it recognizes any voice, so you do not have to train it to understand your particular voice. To access LG's Voice Command function, you press the Voice button on the bottom of the left side panel, and a recorded human voice responds, "Please say a command." You then respond with one of the 10 commands that the phone recognizes. For example, you could say, "Voice mail," and the phone will respond with, "You have one new voice mail message, call voice mail now?" You then respond with "Yes" or "No." Here is the list of the voice commands available along with a short description of what they do:

  • Call someone. The phone responds, "Please say a name," and you speak the name of a person you have entered into your Contacts application.
  • Digit dial. The phone prompts you to speak a phone number into the phone and then dials it.
  • Service alerts. The phone tells you how many missed calls, new voice mails, and new text messages you have.
  • Missed calls. The phone tells you how many new missed calls you have. You can then scroll through the list and hear the phone read you the time, date, and number of each missed call.
  • Contacts. The phone asks if you would like to read, create, or erase a contact. After you respond, it follows with more prompts to guide you in completing each task.
  • Announce. This command toggles Announce Mode on and off. With it on, you are prompted for a command by simply flipping the phone open, and it activates the speaking of caller ID information and some menu items.
  • Driving. This command toggles the hands-free mode on and off. With it on, the speaker phone is on and, as with Announce Mode, you are prompted for a command by flipping the phone open. The speaker phone can also be activated by pressing the Up Arrow on the circular four-way navigation key.
  • Time and date. The phone announces the current time and date.
  • Phone status. The phone announces battery strength and signal strength and indicates if you are roaming and if your global positioning system (GPS) location feature is active.
  • Voice mail. The phone tells you how many voice mail messages you have and asks if you want to call voice mail.

If you forget any of the voice commands that are available, or if you simply do not want to talk to your phone, you can press the Voice button and a recorded human voice will speak the name of each command as you scroll through the list using the Up and Down Arrows of the four-way navigation key. You then just press the OK button when you land on the item you want to activate. You can toggle the speech output between the earpiece of the phone and the speaker phone by pressing the Up Arrow of the four-way navigation key or by turning Driving Mode on and off.

Microsoft Voice Command Software and Pocket PC Phones

Priced at $30, Microsoft Voice Command is a product for Pocket PC and Pocket PC phone devices that features synthesized speech output. It lets you use your voice to look up contacts and place phone calls, get calendar information, play and control your music, launch programs, and get device status, including spoken caller ID. Pocket PC is a line of software developed by Microsoft to run on the Windows CE platform used in many of today's PDA devices, including the Pac Mate from Freedom Scientific. (You may also hear Windows CE referred to as Windows Mobile.) Pocket PC phones are a handheld PDA, similar to a Palm Pilot or an HP iPAQ, but with the addition of telephone functionality. Priced around $500, Pocket PC phones feature Pocket PC applications such as Pocket Word, Internet Explorer, Excel, and Outlook.

Photos of a traditional clamshell-style cell phone (left) next to a Pocket PC-style device with a large screen and no keyboard.

Caption: The LG VX 4500 cell phone from Verizon (left) and a T-Mobile Pocket PC phone featuring Microsoft's Voice Command.

Several service providers offer various Pocket PC phones that are compatible with the Voice Command software (see the Product Information section at the end of this article). However, the Pocket PC phone that we used to evaluate Voice Command for this article has already been discontinued, so we will not discuss its specifics. In general, Pocket PC phones/PDAs weigh about 8 ounces and are fairly flat, measuring roughly 5 inches long by 3 inches wide by about a half inch thick. They have large high-resolution color touch screen displays, measuring about 2 inches wide by 3 inches long, and they usually have only three to five buttons. They have no number keys because dialing is done using voice or a stylus on the touch screen. They are basically very small devices used by people on the go who need some of the functionality of a computer without having to carry around a laptop computer. As well as their telephone and Pocket PC applications, these PDAs can be used to play games; listen to music; and synchronize your contacts, calendar, and tasks with your PC using Outlook. They also perform handwriting recognition when a sighted person uses a stylus to write notes in the device's text editor.

In the past, handheld PDAs such as the Palm Pilot or iPAQ have been unusable by people who are blind or visually impaired because they have had no speech output functionality and the display information has been too small for most people with low vision to read. The inputting of information has also been inaccessible, because these products make use of a flat touch screen and a stylus for entering data, instead of buttons that can be identified by touch. The Microsoft Voice Command software is the first solution we have found that provides access to some of the features of these handheld PDA devices. However, although the Voice Command software is certainly intriguing, we are not quite ready to recommend these devices or the Microsoft Voice Command software to you, because they still have some serious limitations.

What Can Microsoft Voice Command Do?

To use Voice Command, you need first to configure one of the phone's buttons to be the Voice Command button. Although that process is inaccessible, it can be done easily with the assistance of a person who is not blind or visually impaired, and it only has to be done once. Once the button has been assigned, you can access many of the device's functions just by pressing the Voice Command button. A two-note tone is played and a microphone icon appears on screen. Then you can speak naturally into the phone. For example, you can ask, "What is the battery level?" and a high-quality synthesized voice responds, "The battery level is 80 percent." Here is a list of some of the voice commands available, along with a short description of what they do:

  • Call Jane Doe. Voice confirms with "Call Jane Doe?" and you respond by saying "Yes" or "Correct." If you have more than one telephone number associated with that person in your Contacts list, the phone will ask you which number to call, saying "Call Jane Doe at work, home, or mobile?"
  • Dial a number. You say "dial" followed by any phone number. The phone repeats the number, and you confirm by saying "Yes" or "Correct."
  • Play music. The phone responds by asking you various questions to help choose the song you want to hear. You can instead command it to play a specific artist's music that you have downloaded onto the device, for example, "Play the Beatles," and the Fab Four will soon begin to play. You can also interrupt the playing of music with commands such as "Next track," "Previous track," "Stop," Pause," or "What song is this?"
  • What is my calendar today? or What is my schedule today? The synthesized voice responds with the time, date, and details of your upcoming appointments.
  • What is the signal strength? The phone responds with the signal strength as a percentage of full.
  • Redial. The phone redials the last number you called.
  • Call Back. The phone dials the number of the last person who called you.
  • What is the battery level? The phone responds with the battery level as a percentage of full.
  • What time is it? or What is the date? The phone will answer with the correct time or date.
  • Flight mode on or Flight mode off. The voice will confirm the setting. With flight mode on, you can listen to music while on a plane and the phone is automatically turned off to comply with airline regulations.

Other commands too numerous to list are available with Microsoft Voice Command. We discuss some more of them in the Sweet 16 section of this article. If you can't remember all the commands available, you can simply say "Help," and the voice will ask you to choose a help topic and then read the topics available. After you speak the name of one of the topics, it will tell you the commands available. Some of the commands are not accompanied by speech output, so they are not that helpful. For example, you can say, "Start Pocket Internet Explorer," and the device will open the Web browser, but there will be no speech output to access the screen information. You can likewise say the word "Show" followed by a name in your Contacts list. The device will then show all the contact information for that person, but there will be no speech output to help you access that information.

Like the Voice Command feature on the LG 4500, Microsoft's Voice Command is speaker-independent, so you do not have to train it to recognize your voice. Also, your commands do not have to be exact. For example, when asking for your appointments, you can ask "What are my appointments today?" or "What are my meetings today?" or "What's my schedule today?"

The Sweet 16

As we reported in our previous cell phone evaluations, before beginning our reviews we surveyed 40 cell phone users who are blind or have low vision to determine which features they would most like to have made accessible. The 16 features rated the highest by the respondents became the basis of our evaluation, and are known as the Sweet 16. We looked at whether users would be able to access these features and noted the barriers to accessing them.

As phones began to come onto the market with capabilities to make the Sweet 16 features accessible, we wondered what other features would be important to cell phone users who are blind or visually impaired. We surveyed readers of our AccessWorld Extra e-mail update last year to establish more features that would be important to increase the accessibility of cell phones. We received over 60 responses, and came up with a list of eight more features to evaluate, which we will call the "Elite Eight," in keeping with our NCAA college basketball tournament nomenclature. The evaluation methods we used included these:

  • measuring the ability to identify and use the keypad tactilely
  • determining the ability to navigate menus
  • noting auditory and vibratory feedback
  • assessing the readability of the visual display

The following analysis lists the 16 cell phone features that our original survey determined to be the most important for accessibility and how the LG VX 4500 and Microsoft's Voice Command software measured up on each feature. Following that, we will present our analysis of the Elite 8.

Keys Easily Identifiable by Touch

Although there is still room for slight improvement, the keys on the VX 4500 are relatively easy to identify by touch. The dialing keys are in the familiar three-by-four grid, and the 5 key has two nibs properly placed on the right and left sides of the key for orientation purposes. With Announce mode on, the phone will speak the digits as you dial them to help you ensure that you have dialed correctly. The Talk and End keys also each have a nib placed on them, so that you can find them quickly and easily, and the Volume key and Voice key on the side panel are raised and easy to identify.

The Pocket PC phones that we have seen only have three to five keys, and they are very easy to locate and operate by touch. However, that is somewhat moot because most of the input on the Pocket PC phones is done by tapping on a flat touch screen with a stylus, which is not accessible to people who are blind or visually impaired.

Voice Output

Most of the voice output on the LG 4500 is digitally recorded human speech in a clear, female voice, but there is also a synthesized voice that reads out the names of contacts that you create in the phone's contacts application. Although the synthesized speech is not as easy to understand as the synthesizers that come with screen reader software, it is adequate. In addition to the access that the voice output provides in support of the Voice Command features described earlier, it can also be set to read out the digits as you dial phone numbers. It also reads menu items as you navigate the phone's menu system. However, it only reads two levels of menus and does not provide speech output once you choose a particular function to activate. For example, you can press the left soft key to enter the main menu, then scroll to and choose "Messages" and then "New message," but that is where speech stops. There is no speech output to assist in creating the new message.

With Microsoft Voice Command software, the voice is produced through a clear, easy-to-understand speech synthesizer. All the speech output is produced in conjunction with the voice input commands discussed earlier. Although the software provides a degree of access to many of the device's functions, it does have significant limitations. Other than for dialing phone numbers, it does not provide speech output for entering data into the device, and there is no voice output support for using the Pocket PC applications such as Pocket Word, Excel, or Internet Explorer.

Accessible Documentation

We were able to acquire the manual for the LG 4500 from Verizon Wireless in text format. Although this manual was certainly accessible, it did have some fairly major problems in regard to usability and how well it provides assistance to a person who is blind or visually impaired who is trying to learn how to use the phone. The table of contents had no page numbers associated with the various sections, and it was very difficult to tell one section from another when reading through the document. Also, there was no specific section dedicated to describing the Voice Command functions. Instead, information on Voice Command was intermingled throughout various other sections. In our testing at AFB TECH, we had to learn about it through trial and error.

The manual for Microsoft's Voice Command software, in contrast, was produced in a highly accessible and usable HTML file. It was easy to navigate and find clear descriptions of how to use the software.

Battery Level Indicator

It is easy to access battery level information on both these systems. When prompted to say a command by the LG 4500, you simply say "Phone status," and the voice speaks the battery level, which is read as full, 75 percent, 50 percent, 25 percent, or 0 percent. It also produces an audible tone warning that the battery is empty and needs charging. When the battery is critically low, the phone produces a periodic warning beep and then three consecutive beeps just before the battery runs out completely.

With Microsoft Voice Command, you ask, "What is the battery level?" and the voice responds by telling you the percentage of battery power remaining. During testing, we heard no low battery warning tones, but that feature would be dependent on the Pocket PC phone itself, and not on the Voice Command software.

Roaming Indicator

If you give the Phone status command to the LG 4500, it will tell you if you are roaming and thus paying more for your call. However, Microsoft's Voice Command does not provide spoken indication of roaming.

Message Indicator

On the LG 4500, the Voice mail command causes the voice to tell you if you have any voice mail messages, and the Service alerts command alerts you to voice mail, missed calls, and text messages. However, the text messaging function is inaccessible because it does not feature speech output. You cannot access any message indicators with Microsoft's Voice command software.

Phone Book

The phone book application is called Contacts on the LG 4500. It is more accessible than on any other off-the-shelf phone, but it still isn't perfect. You can add contacts using voice commands along with the keypad, but that only lets you add one phone number per contact. If you memorize keystrokes, you can add up to four more numbers, but you do not get voice feedback to guide you through that process. After phone numbers have been added, you can use the Contacts command to read, erase, and call those contacts, with the human voice output guiding you through the process. You can also press the right soft key to enter the Contacts mode and listen to the synthetic voice read the names as you scroll through the list of contacts you have created. When you hear the name of the person you want to call, you can then press the Send key to place the call. If there is more than one number associated with the contact, it will prompt you to tell them which one to call. However, it only prompts you for that if you use the Voice command to call, and not when you go directly into the Contacts mode by pressing the right soft key.

With a Pocket PC phone, you can create your Contacts list in Outlook on your PC, then transfer them to the phone, a process that is entirely accessible using a screen reader and Microsoft ActiveSync. You can then call someone by saying "Call," followed by the name of one of the contacts you have created. The voice will then repeat the name and you confirm with "Yes" or "Correct." You can also say "Show" followed by a name, and that person's contact information will appear on the screen, but there is no speech output to read that information.

Phone Lock Mode

To lock the LG 4500 to prevent unauthorized use, you press the Pound key for 3 seconds. You unlock it by pressing the right soft key followed by your four-digit password, which is the last four digits of your phone number. The phone emits a beep to indicate that the phone is locked, but there is no speech output to support this process. Also, there is no speech support if you want to change your password.

On the Pocket PC phone, the feature is called Call Barring, but it must be set via the inaccessible menu system and it cannot be accessed with the Voice Command software.

Keypad Lock Mode

A keypad lock feature is used to prevent the phone from dialing inadvertently if it is jostled while in your pocket or briefcase. Since the keys on the LG 4500 are protected by its clamshell-style design, this feature is not necessary with this phone.

Since the Pocket PC phones have no keypads, there is no need for a keypad lock mode.

Power Indicator

The LG 4500 plays a short tune when it is turned on or off, but that indicator does not help if you just want to check to see if the phone is actually on or off. Sighted users can tell whether the phone is on simply by looking to see if the display is on. Users who are blind or visually impaired can press any number key and listen for a tone, which would indicate that the phone is on. Also, if Announce mode is activated, the voice prompts you to say a command when you flip open the phone, which would indicate that the power is indeed on. With Microsoft Voice Command, sighted users can look to see if the display is on, or you can simply press the voice command button and listen for the tone prompting you to say a command.

Ringing or Vibrating Mode Indicator

The LG 4500 has a feature called Manner mode for use in public places, which silences all key tones and sets the phone to vibrate mode. Set Manner mode by pressing and holding the Star key for 3 seconds. The phone will briefly vibrate and a Vibrate icon appears on the display. To get out of Manner mode, press the Star key for 3 seconds again, and a beep will sound and the Vibrate icon disappears.

With Microsoft Voice Command, you give the command "Set ringer vibrate," and the voice responds confirming the setting. To set it back to ringer mode, you give a ringer volume command such as "Set ringer high," and the voice confirms that setting.

GPS Feature

The LG 4500 has a GPS feature that is used to help local 911 systems locate you in case of an emergency, but your local emergency system must be equipped to use the satellite systems. The GPS feature can also access other location-based services that may be available from providers of cellular services in the future. Turning the GPS feature off will hide your location from everyone except 911 services, but it must be done via the inaccessible menus. The Pocket PC phone we used for this evaluation did not have a GPS feature, but other Pocket PC phones coming onto the market may have that feature. However, Voice command does not have a way to turn the feature on or off.

Signal Strength Indicator

Both of these systems have speech output to indicate your signal strength. On the LG 4500, you give the command "Phone status" and the voice tells you how many bars your signal strength icon is displaying. With Microsoft voice command, you ask "What is my signal strength" and the voice tells you your signal strength as a percentage of full, in increments of 10. For example, it might say, "The signal strength is 60 percent."

Ringer Volume Control

On the LG 4500, you press the rocker switch Volume button on the left side panel to adjust the ringer and earpiece volume. There are six levels: silent, low, low/medium, medium, medium/high, and high. An indicator tone plays as you adjust the volume, and that tone increases or decreases in volume depending on the direction in which you are adjusting the volume of the phone.

With Microsoft Voice Command, you set the ringer volume by saying "Set ringer high," "Set ringer medium," "Set ringer low," or "Set ringer off." The voice responds by confirming the setting.

Caller Identification

Both of these systems will speak caller identification information. They will speak the number of an incoming caller or they will speak the name of the caller if you have entered the caller into your Contacts list.

Speed Dialing

On the LG 4500, there is no speech output to assist in setting up speed dialing, but if you get assistance from a sighted user to associate certain contacts with speed dial numbers, you simply press a number between 2 and 9 to call the contact associated with that number. You will need to remember which contact is associated with which speed dial number, so it would probably be easier to use the Voice Dialing feature to dial a number quickly.

The Elite 8

The new "Elite 8" features that were evaluated on these two systems include access to the call log, customizable ring tones, backspace, voice dialing, voice recorder, ringer type selection, redial, and text messaging.

Call Log Access

Both systems can speak missed call information, but not information about received calls or dialed calls.

Customizable Ring Tones

Neither system has speech output to assist in customizing ring tones.


A backspace key is used to erase misdialed numbers. The LG phone has a Cancel key that you can press to backspace over misdialed numbers one at a time, but the Pocket PC phone does not.

Voice-Activated Dialing

Both systems have voice-activated dialing.

Voice Recorder

There is no speech output to support the voice recorder on the LG phone. The voice recorder on Pocket PC phones is also inaccessible because you have to use the touch screen to access that function, and there is no speech output to support the process.

Ringer Type Selection

There is no speech output to support the selection of the type of ringer to be used on either system.


There is no redial command on the LG 4500. With the Microsoft Voice Command you can simply say "Redial" and the phone will redial the last number you called.

Text Messaging

Speech output does not support text messaging on either phone.

Accessibility for Users with Low Vision

In addition to the Sweet 16 and the Elite 8, we looked at overall accessibility of the phones from the perspective of a user with low vision. The LG 4500 has a high-resolution color display, but most of the text and icons that appear are in font sizes around 10 points, which is too small for most people with low vision to see clearly. It does have a setting to adjust font sizes from normal to large, but it only adjusts the size of the digits that appear on screen when you dial a number or enter text into a contact or text message. Glare was not a problem with this phone, and brightness and contrast can be adjusted to improve viewability.

The Pocket PC phones we have seen also feature large high-resolution color displays, but they were not designed to be easily viewed by people with low vision. Although there is a lot of screen area, the font sizes are too small, and the contrast and brightness cannot be adjusted. On the positive side, glare was not a problem, and we were able to open the Pocket Word application and use its zoom feature to increase the font size of documents from a low of 8 points to a high of 30 points.

Voice Recognition Quality

Since much of the functionality of the two systems we are evaluating in this article rely on voice input for control, we decided to check to see how robust the voice recognition was. To test how well the systems recognized verbal commands, we tested them in different environments with varying levels of background noise. We took the phones to a downtown street corner near passing traffic and to a university student union, and we varied the noise level in our lab with music and recorded conversation. To show our true dedication to researching cell phone accessibility, we even took the phones to the local pub on a very busy Friday evening to test them in a very loud environment. The results were surprisingly positive: both systems performed better than expected in environments we would describe as mildly to moderately noisy.

We found the voice recognition to be more robust on the LG 4500: it was 90 percent successful in recognizing commands even in the very loud pub. With Microsoft Voice Command, the voice recognition did not work at all in the noisy pub, and it failed about 50 percent of the time in the moderately noisy environment. Another advantage of the LG 4500 is that it can be trained to recognize your particular voice patterns, which helps if you have a strong accent or your voice is hard to understand because of a speech impairment.

The Bottom Line

Although the systems that we evaluate in this article do not provide the high level of accessibility provided by the TALKS and Mobile Speak products we evaluated in our November 2004 issue, they do provide additional choices for blind and visually impaired cell phone users.

The LG 4500 is the most accessible off-the-shelf phone available today, outperforming the Audiovox/Toshiba phone that we evaluated in our May 2004 issue, and it does so at a price hundreds of dollars less than the TALKS or Mobile Speak options in a smaller, more convenient clamshell design. However, it does still have some serious drawbacks in accessing the phone's menu system and many of its features. Although it does provide speech output while you navigate through the top two levels of the menu system, that speech output is of no real use to a blind or visually impaired person. For it to be useful, the speech must be consistent throughout the entire menu system; when you choose a feature you want to access, it must also provide speech output while you use that feature. For our readers who want to purchase this phone, you will want to make sure that you are buying the upgraded version, with software version T45VZV04. To learn more about the LG 4500, you can join the online discussion list by sending a blank e-mail message to <blindusersLGVX4500-subscribe@yahoogroups.com>.

Although we would not yet recommend Microsoft's Voice Command software to our readers, it is interesting to see Microsoft entering the fray and providing even this limited level of accessibility to these touch-screen devices that have traditionally been unusable by people who are blind, visually impaired, or have low vision. We were certainly intrigued while evaluating the Voice Command system. It was great to be able just to pick up the phone and say, "Play Muddy Waters," and hear the blues legend begin to crank out his riffs. However, it is hard to justify shelling out around $550 for a device with such limited accessibility. Voice Command provides access to only a small portion of the full functionality of a Pocket PC device, and it has a very serious limitation that becomes apparent while you are on a call. If you need to enter a digit to choose an option on a company's voice mail system or if you have to enter a person's extension number, you are out of luck. Voice Command will not function during a call, so you cannot enter digits while on a call unless you can see to tap the onscreen dialing pad. Microsoft Voice Command would be something to consider if it had screen reader functionality to deliver more accessibility for inputting and outputting information.

On the Horizon

As is the case with most consumer electronics, cell phones are continually evolving, so we can hope to see further enhancements and upgrades to the systems we have described in this article and previous articles. For those of you interested in staying on the cutting edge of cell phone development, you will want to check out the Resources and Product Information section of our article summarizing the choices available, which appeared in the March 2005 issue of AccessWorld. You may also want to join the LG 4500 discussion list mentioned earlier if you want to keep up with the LG 4500.

Those interested in the Pocket PC phones may be interested to hear about a number of developments that were demonstrated at the 2005 Technology and Persons with Disabilities conference sponsored by the California State University at Northridge (see the "CSUN 2005" report elsewhere in this issue for more details). Dolphin Computer Access (European manufacturers of assistive technology products such as the HAL screen reader) demonstrated "Pocket Hal," a screen reader designed for Pocket PC applications, to be released in summer 2005. Also, Code Factory, manufacturers of the Mobile Speak and Mobile Magnifier cell phone software products, demonstrated their Mobile Speak Pocket screen reader, which will be available in the near future, on several Windows CE devices. These products, along with the portable "snap-on" and wireless keyboards now available with some Pocket PC devices, may provide full access to a Pocket PC phone/PDA. Also, representatives from Optelec, vendor of low vision, speech, and braille solutions, demonstrated EasyLink, a combination software and wireless braille-keyboard solution that they are now offering to make the HP iPaq Pocket PC device accessible. (For another type of keyboard solution, see "A New Keypad Design for Faster Text Input.") In addition, Fonix Corporation is offering two products for Pocket PC phones similar to Microsoft's Voice Command, called VoiceCentral and VoiceDial.

These are exciting times in the world of mobile technology. It has always been a fast-paced, rapidly-evolving industry, and it finally seems as though people who are blind or visually impaired are beginning to have more opportunities in which to take part.

Funding for this product evaluation was provided by the Teubert Foundation, Huntington, West Virginia.

Product Features


LG VX 4500
Microsoft Voice
PC phones
Size (inches) 1.9 x 0.9 x 3.5 folded up approximately 5 x 3 x 0.5
Weight (ounces) 3.7 approximately 8.0
Display screen size (inches) Main screen: 1.5 x 1.1; secondary screen: 0.9 x 0.5 3 x 2
Phone style Clamshell Flat touch screen
Voice dialing Yes Yes
Cost $39.95 with a two-year service agreement with Verizon Wireless or $89.95 with a one-year agreement Microsoft Voice Command: $30; Pocket PC phones: approximately $500

Note: Prices for cell phones and service change rapidly, so check with your service provider for current prices and availability.

Product Features

Feature: LG VX 4500; Microsoft Voice Command/Pocket PC phones

Size (inches): LG VX 4500: 1.9 x 0.9 x 3.5 when folded up; Pocket PC Phones: approximately 5 x 3 x 0.5.

Weight (ounces): LG VX 4500: 3.7; Pocket PC phones: Approximately 8.0.

Display screen size (inches): LG VX 4500: Main screen: 1.5 x 1.1, Secondary screen: 0.9 x 0.5; Pocket PC phones: 3 x 2.

Phone style: LG VX 4500: clamshell; Pocket PC phones: flat touch screen.

Voice dialing: LG VX 4500: Yes; Microsoft Voice Command: Yes.

Cost: LG VX 4500: $39.95 with a two year service agreement with Verizon Wireless or $89.95 with a one year agreement; Microsoft Voice Command: $30; Pocket PC phones: Approximately $500.

Note that prices for cell phones and service change rapidly, so check with your service provider for current prices and availability.

Product Ratings
Product Ratings

Ratings Chart

Feature: LG VX 4500; Microsoft Voice Command

Keys easily identifiable by touch: LG VX 4500: 3.5; Microsoft Voice Command: NA.

Access to screen information: LG VX 4500: 3.5; Microsoft Voice Command: 1.5.

Accessible documentation: LG VX 4500: 2.5; Microsoft Voice Command: 4.5.

Speech quality: LG VX 4500: 4; Microsoft Voice Command: 4.5.

NA = Not Applicable. Microsoft Voice Command is a software product, so the tactile nature of the keys depends on the Pocket PC phone on which it is loaded.

Product Information

LG VX 4500 and PC Phones with Microsoft Voice Command

Product: LG VX 4500.

Manufacturer: LG Electronics, MobileComm U.S.A., 10225 Willow Creek Road, San Diego, CA 92131; phone: 800-793-8896; e-mail: <customerservice@lge.com>; web site: <http://us.lge.com>.

Service Provider: Verizon Wireless: phone: 800-256-4646; web site: <www.verizonwireless.com>.

Price: $39.95 with a two-year service agreement or $89.95 with a one-year agreement.

Product: Voice Command Software for Pocket PC phones.

Manufacturer: Microsoft Corporation, 1 Microsoft Way, Redmond, WA 98052-6399; phone: 800-642-7676; web site: <www.microsoft.com/voicecommand>.

Vendors: Voice Command is available from CompUSA Inc., Circuit City Stores Inc., Amazon.com Inc., Fry's Electronics Inc., Micro Center, J&R Electronics Inc., and MobilePlanet and at <www.Handango.com>.

Price: $30.

Pocket PC Phones Compatible with Microsoft Voice Command

Here is a sample of the phones compatible with Voice Command and the service providers that offer them:

Product: Samsung i700 Pocket PC.

Service provider: Verizon Wireless; website: <www.verizonwireless.

Price: $549.95.

Product: Siemens SX66 Pocket PC.

Service provider: Cingular; website <www.cingularwireless.com>.

Price: $549.99.

Other Software Compatible with Pocket PC Phones

Product: EasyLink.

Manufacturer: Optelec, 321 Billerica Road, Chelmsford, MA 01824; phone: 978-392-0707 or 800-828-1056; e-mail: <optelec@optelec.com>; web site: <www.optelec.com/blind_and_braille/easylink/index.php>.

Price: $1595 (includes EasyLink software, wireless Braille keyboard, and HP Ipaq PDA).

Product: Fonix VoiceDial and Fonix VoiceCentral 2 for Pocket PC.

Manufacturer: Fonix Corporation, 629 Massachusetts Avenue, Boxborough, MA, 01719; Phone: 978-266-0100; e-mail: <support@fonix.com>; web site: <www.fonix.com>.

Price: Fonix VoiceDial: $15.95; Fonix VoiceCentral 2 for Pocket PC: $29.95.

Product: Pocket Hal Screen Reader (not yet available).

Manufacturer: Dolphin Computer Access, 60 East Third Avenue, Suite 301, San Mateo, CA 94401; phone: 866-797-5921 or 650-348-7401; e-mail: <info@dolphinusa.com>; web site: <www.dolphinusa.com>.

Product: Pocket Mobile Speak Screen Reader (not yet available).

Manufacturer: Code Factory, S. L. Rambla d'Egara, 148, 2-2, 08221 Terrassa, Barcelona, Spain; phone: 0049-171-3797470; e-mail: <sales@mobileaccessiblity.com>; web site: <www.codefactory.es>.

Product: Pocket PC Screen Reader (not yet available).

Manufacturer: Dolphin Computer Access, 60 East Third Avenue, Suite 301, San Mateo, CA 94401; phone: 866-797-5921 or 650-348-7401; e-mail: <info@dolphinusa.com>; web site: <www.dolphinusa.com>.

A New Keypad Design for Faster Text Input

Readers who have had the opportunity to use the accessible cell phones we have evaluated in AccessWorld have probably noticed that it can be a bit cumbersome, not to mention downright frustrating, when trying to enter text in the phonebook or messaging applications on these devices. Traditionally, you enter letters by pressing one of the number keys between 1 and 4 times. For example, you would press the 1 key once to type the letter A, twice for B, and three times for C. It would actually take 15 key presses to type out the five letters in the name Chris into your phonebook application using these traditional keypad methods. In addition to having to make multiple key presses to enter individual letters, you also have to memorize which letters correspond to which numbers on the keypad.

Photo of clamshell cell phone showing the hills-and-valley style Fastap keyboard.

Caption: A cell phone with the Fastap keypad.

To ease the burden of text entry, Massachusetts-based Digit Wireless has developed their Fastap keypad, which uses what they describe as a "hills-and-valleys" design to include separate number and letter keys on the keypad of a cell phone. Essentially, the number or dialing keys are rectangularly shaped valleys, and the letter keys are on circular raised hills at the corners of the number keys. Starting at the top of the keypad, the top row of hills are the letters A through D, and below that the first row of valley keys are the Send, Backspace, and End keys. The next row of hills includes the E through H keys, with the 1 through 3 keys in the valleys below that. This pattern continues down the keypad, with the last row of valley keys including a Shift key, a Spacebar, and a Punctuation key. Below that are the final two hill keys, which are the Y and Z.

In addition to entering text, the letter keys can also serve as shortcut keys to open applications while the phone is in standby mode. For example, pressing and holding the M key quickly opens the messaging application, and the S key opens up the settings application.

Digit Wireless sent a prototype of their Fastap keypad on a preproduction LG phone to our product evaluation lab at AFB TECH last year. We conducted some user tests to determine its effectiveness and to provide them with our suggestions for improvement. Including myself, a total of eight people served as informal testers. The group included six adults and two teenagers. Four of the adults were totally blind, one was visually impaired, and one was sighted; one of the teenagers was blind and the other was sighted. I described the keypad to each person and then observed and took notes as each tester worked with the phone for about an hour, practicing writing SMS (short message service) messages and dialing phone numbers.

Nearly every tester's initial reaction was confusion, as this is a keypad style that none of us had ever come across. However, as we practiced more and more, they began to get familiar with how to operate the keypad. All the testers commented that with just a little more time and practice, they would be able to use the keypad efficiently. I had the phone with me for several days, so I had much more time to work with it than any of the others, and my efficiency definitely improved over time. After I memorized and got used to the pattern, I was able to use the letter keys much more efficiently than I can use the traditional multitap method on my Nokia 6620 with TALKS or Mobile Speak. Interestingly, two of our testers were proficient braille readers, and they liked the keypad a great deal. They were much more proficient from the outset than our non-braille readers. Some of the testers commented that the hill keys got in their way when trying to dial phone numbers. They soon realized, however, that the keyboard has built-in error-correction software that makes dialing easier.

The major point that our blind and visually impaired testers wanted to get across is that regardless of how much they may have liked the keypad, it is not of much use to them if it is on a phone that does not provide voice output. Without voice output to confirm what they have typed, even the most perfect keypad is not much help. We certainly relayed this information to our contacts at Digit Wireless, but they do not make the entire phone. They license the keypad technology and market it to telephone manufacturers, who can then build it into their phones. So, it is up to the manufacturers such as LG Electronics to decide to add the necessary text-to-speech functionality to their phones.

The Fastap keypad has been available in Canada since December 2004 on the LG 6190 cell phone offered by the Canadian service provider TELUS Mobility. Based on the feedback that we provided to them from our user testing, Digit Wireless did make some improvements on the keypad before launching it in Canada. For orientation purposes, they increased the size of the nibs on the 5 key, and they also placed raised markings on either side of the 1 through 3 and 7 through 9 number rows. To improve the tactile differentiation between the keys, they made the hill keys rubber and the valley keys plastic. They also improved the low vision accessibility of the keypad by making the hill keys black to contrast with the silver valley keys.

TELUS Mobility has reported that their clients using this phone are sending more than twice the number of text messages than their customers using other phones, so it is obvious that the Fastap keypad does facilitate more effective text messaging. The LG 6190 phone also includes the Voice Command feature described in the main part of this article, but it does not provide the necessary text-to-speech functionality to read the text that you would enter using the Fastap keypad.

If a manufacturer would add the Fastap keypad to a phone that has the overall voice output functionality provided by the Mobile Speak and TALKS software products, then blind and visually impaired cell phone users would have another very useful option from which to choose when purchasing a mobile phone--especially if text messaging is something they would like to do more efficiently.

Product: Fastap Keypad.

Manufacturer: Digit Wireless, 33 Hayden Avenue, Lexington, MA 02421, 781-274-7888; e-mail:<info@digitwireless.com>; web site: <www.digitwireless.com>.

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AccessWorld News

Kurzweil Acquired by Cambium Learning

On Thursday, April 7, Cambium Learning announced that they had signed an agreement to acquire Kurzweil Educational Systems. An education company located in Natick, Massachusetts, Cambium Learning was founded in 2003 by three former executives of Houghton Mifflin based on the belief that all students--including minority, at-risk, economically disadvantaged, and special student populations--can achieve at a high level. The company provides research-based, culturally responsive instructional materials, services, and technology to help educators raise the achievement level of challenged learners from preschool through 12th grade. Kurzweil Educational systems produces Kurzweil 1000 and Kurzweil 3000 optical character recognition software for people who are blind or visually impaired and people with learning disabilities, respectively. In 1998, Kurzweil Educational Systems was purchased by Lernout & Hauspie, only to leave that company three years later. For more information, contact Kurzweil Educational Systems: phone: 781-276-0619; web site: <www.kurzweiledu.com> or Cambium Learning: phone: 508-647-1340; web site: <www.cambiumlearning.com>.

On the Same Page

A cooperative effort between ViewPlus Technologies and Hewlett-Packard Specialty Printing Systems has resulted in a machine that can produce print, braille, and tactile graphics all on the same page. The Pro Ink Attachment (PIA), as it is called, works with the ViewPlus Pro printer and places high-quality print above or alongside the braille text. Producing an image in both print and tactile form on the same sheet can make it easier for coworkers who are blind and sighted to share the same concepts. Braille with a print equivalent above or beside makes it easier for parents or teachers to help the young reader who is blind. The PIA can produce braille and ink text images on both sides of the page, thereby reducing paper costs. The PIA comes bundled with translation software for converting MS Word or Excel files to braille and, the company claims, "the Pro with PIA is quiet so it can be used in a normal office environment." For more information, visit ViewPlus: 541-754-4002; web site: <www.viewplus.com>.

People on the Move

Madelyn Bryant McIntire, who has directed Microsoft's Accessible Technology Group (ATG) for the last four years, has left the department to become the company's Product Unit Manager for the Digital Documents team in the Windows Division. The new ATG director is Rob Sinclair, who has been with Microsoft since 1997 and who is credited with having led the company in creating accessible Windows applications. He has been a key contributor to ten patents for accessibility related inventions. . . . HumanWare, in its new incarnation, is making some already well-known faces in the assistive technology industry even more visible. Just two weeks prior to the news of the HumanWare merger (see "Dial M for Merger" elsewhere in this issue), the former Pulse Data International announced the promotion of Dominic Gagliano to National Blindness Sales Manager. Gagliano, who joined HumanWare in 1989 as its Midwest sales representative, quickly rose to be a major force in the assistive technology industry. "Dominic is one of those rare sighted people who intuitively understands the needs of blind people," noted Jim Halliday, who founded the California-based HumanWare in 1988 and hired Gagliano into the field. Many who have come to know Dominic Gagliano echo those sentiments. . . . Just a few weeks after the merger, HumanWare announced the appointment of Roberto Gonzalez as blindness products specialist in its Concord, California, offices. Gonzalez, who most recently worked with the ALVA Access Group as product manager, was part of the HumanWare team in the 1990s when the company was based in Loomis. His particular expertise is braille-related technology.

Getting the Picture

Following a two-year research effort funded by the European Commission's Information Society Technologies research program, Technical Drawings Understanding for the Blind (TeDUB ) has announced the release of software that will convert visual images to a format compatible with screen readers. When a diagram is uploaded to the site, it is converted and the new file is e-mailed to the user. The system also allows users to move around diagrams with a joystick, and provides sounds to accompany navigation. The software is free and is available by download from the TeDUB web site where tutorials and examples of Unified Modelling Language (UML) diagrams can be found. The TeDUB Consortium comprises partners from the United Kingdom, Germany, Ireland, Italy, and the Netherlands. For more information, visit <www.tedub.org>.

Right on the Button

Optelec's ClearView+ is a new desktop video magnifier with one-button control. The company says that with one button, you can increase or decrease magnification and change from photo mode to black and white or reverse mode. The ClearView+ magnifies print up to 50X, and comes with your choice of a 17-inch black and white CRT, color CRT, or color thin film transistor (TFT) flat panel monitor. For more information, contact: Optelec U.S.: phone: 978-392-0707 or 800-828-1056; e-mail: <optelec@optelec.com>; web site: <www.optelec.com>.

A Guide to Surfing Without a Mouse

National Braille Press (NBP) has published Braille.Com and Beyond by Anna Dresner. The author of Finding Ebooks on the Internet uses NBP's web site to introduce you to all the basics (and tricks) for surfing the Web without a mouse. The book covers opening a Web page, navigating tables, filling out forms, and the basics of shopping online. Learn to shop on NBP's site, and they will send you a free braille book. Braille.Com and Beyond is available in two braille volumes or as a PortaBook (a braille file on disk that can be read in a number of ways including a portable braille reading device) for $10. For more information, contact: National Braille Press: phone: 800-548-7323; e-mail: <orders@nbp.org>; web site: <www.braille.com>.

New Features in JAWS 6.0

Version 6.0 of JAWS for Windows, the popular screen-reading program that is celebrating its tenth anniversary this year, began shipping in early March. Main additions are the Basic Training files in DAISY format, along with a demonstration of FS Reader, the not-yet-released DAISY reader being developed by Freedom Scientific; the ability to custom label fields and buttons on web pages that do not speak; and a "skim reading" feature that provides a quicker way to get the gist of a document or locate a desired segment. For more information, contact Freedom Scientific: phone: 727-803-8000 or 800-444-4443; web site: <www.freedomscientific.com>.

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June 5–8, 2005

Distance Learning Administration (DLA) 2005 Conference

Jekyll Island, GA


Stacey Rowland, DLA2005 Conference, State University of West Georgia, Distance & Distributed Education, Honors House, Carrollton, GA 30118; web site: <www.westga.edu/~distance/dla2005.html>.

June 9–11, 2005

Collaborative Assistive Technology Conference

Westminster, CO


Assistive Technology Partners (ATP), 1245 East Colfax Avenue, Suite 200, Denver, CO 80218; phone: 303-315-1283; e-mail: <maureen.melonis@uchsc.edu>; web site: <www.uchsc.edu/atp>.

July 22–27, 2005

11th International Conference on Human Computer Interaction

Las Vegas, NV

The session, Non-Visual Access of Complex Document Components, may be of particular interest to AccessWorld® readers.


Conference Administrator, School of Industrial Engineering, Purdue University, Grissom Hall, 315 North Grant Street, West Lafayette, IN 47907; phone: 765-494-5426; e-mail: <hcii2005@ecn.purdue.edu>; web site: <www.hci-international.org>.

August 2–6, 2005

Association on Higher Education and Disability (AHEAD) 2005

Milwaukee, WI


AHEAD, University of Massachusetts at Boston, 100 Morrissey Boulevard, Boston, MA 02125; phone: 617-287-3880; web site: <www.ahead.org/conference>.

September 19–22, 2005

Assistive Technology from Virtuality to Reality: 8th European Conference for the Advancement of Assistive Technology in Europe

Lille, France

The conference is sponsored by The Association for the Advancement of Assistive Technology in Europe (AAATE).


Package, 140 cours Charlemagne, 69002, Lyon, France; phone: +33-(0)4-72-77-45-50; e-mail: <t.garmier@package.fr>; web site: <www.aaate2005.com>.

October 7–8, 2005

7-8 Virginia Murray Sowell Lecturer Series: Assistive Technology for the Visually Impaired and Multiply Disabled

Lubbock, TX


Angela Gonzalez, administrative business assistant, Virginia Murray Sowell Center for Research and Education in Visual Impairment, P.O. Box 41071, Lubbock, TX 79409; phone: 806-742-1997, extension 251; web site: <www.educ.ttu.edu/sowell>.

October 9–10, 2005

The Seventh International ACM SIGACCESS (Association for Computing Machinery Special Interest Group on Accessible Computing) Conference on Computers and Accessibility

Baltimore, MD


Andrew Sears, Information Systems Department, University of Maryland, Baltimore County, 1000 Hilltop Drive, Baltimore, MD 21250; phone: 410-455-3883; e-mail: <asears@umbc.edu>; web site: <www.acm.org/sigaccess/assets05/>.

January 5–8, 2006

2006 International Consumer Electronics Show

Las Vegas, NV


2005 International Consumer Electronics Show, c/o ExpoExchange, P.O. Box 590, Frederick, MD 21705; phone: 866-233-7968 or 301-694-5124; e-mail: <CESinfo@CE.org>; web site: <www.cesweb.org>.

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Copyright © 2005 American Foundation for the Blind. All rights reserved. AccessWorld is a trademark of the American Foundation for the Blind.

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